Aragorn and Sauron – the True and False Kings

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Iolanthe
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Aragorn and Sauron – the True and False Kings

Post by Iolanthe » Mon Feb 26, 2007 9:30 pm

Aragorn and Sauron – the True and False Kings

By Iolanthe

There are no precise opposites to the Wizards…..They were thought to be Emissaries (in the terms of this tale from the Far West beyond the Sea), and their proper function maintained by Gandalf, and perverted by Saruman, was to encourage and bring out the native powers of the Enemies of Sauron. Gandalf’s opposite was, strictly, Sauron, in one part of Sauron’s operations: as Aragorn was in another.[my italics]

Letter 144 to Naomi Mitchison, 25 April 1954, The Letters of J R R Tolkien ed. Humphrey Carpenter, Christopher Tolkien. Harper Collins 1981).
This phrase in Tolkien’s letter to Naomi Mitchison set me off on a long trail of thought. Just as you expect him to elaborate on his last comment he veers off to talk about Balrogs and leaves us wondering: In what way is Aragorn Sauron’s opposite? The more I thought about it the more interesting the whole question became and the more surprised I was by Aragorn’s journey to the Throne of Gondor and what he and his kingship represented. As I compared him with Sauron I became convinced that it was kingship – and even more than that, the ancient mythological idea of sacred kingship – that was the foundation of Tolkien’s comment.
The story is cast in terms of a good side, and a bad side, beauty against ruthless ugliness, tyranny against kingship, moderated freedom with consent against compulsion that has long lost any object save mere power….

Letter 144 to Naomi Mitchison, 25 April 1954, The Letters of J R R Tolkien ed. Humphrey Carpenter, Christopher Tolkien. Harper Collins 1981).
So they [the Numenoreans] came into conflict with Sauron, the lieutenant of the Prime Dark Lord, who had fallen back into evil and was claiming both kingship and godship over Men of Middle-earth. It was on the kingship question that Ar-pharazôn the 13th and mightiest King of Numenor challenged him primarily.

Letter 156 to Robert Murray (draft) 4 November 1954, The Letters of J R R Tolkien ed. Humphrey Carpenter, Christopher Tolkien. Harper Collins 1981).
Let’s look first at Sauron as king. Sauron wants to set himself up as ‘King’ of Middle-earth as part of his revenge against men and elves and especially against Elendil and his heirs, the ‘Faithful’ who refused to follow him in Numenor. He is focussed on capturing Minas Tirith and his desire is to rule all the inhabitants of Middle-earth either from there or from Mordor. Either way he is the epitome of the tyrannical, evil ruler perverting power without justice. Gandalf wants to free Middle-earth and that certainly makes him Sauron’s enemy. It is Gandalf who, in his un-incarnate state, matches Sauron’s powers - they are both Maiar - but it is not Gandalf’s role to use the full extent of his powers in Middle-earth. He can only advise, persuade and motivate Men and Elves. Gandalf is there to help save Middle-earth, but it is Aragorn’s destiny to rule it. In that he is Sauron’s direct counterpart. Unlike Sauron, he is the just and merciful ruler, who will hold power without tyranny.


Man and myth

It may seem at first glance that a man cannot be a proper counterpart to a Maiar – a lesser god - but Aragorn is a whole lot more than he at first seems. And he is still a whole lot more than he seems even when we know that he is the heir to the throne of Gondor. He is, in fact, more than a king in the ordinary sense of the word, and it is this ‘something more’ that truly sets him up as Sauron’s opposite. It is also this ‘something more’ that makes Aragorn’s character so tantalizing. We feel it increasingly throughout the book as he is suddenly seen with fresh eyes by various characters – Frodo at Cerin Amroth, Legolas and Gimli when he confronts Eomer on the Plains of Rohan and most especially to everybody assembled at his Coronation where “strength and healing were in his hands, and a light was about him.”

It’s all too easy to draw parallels with other mythologies and I don’t want to make the mistake of explaining Aragorn’s character and role as an allegory for what a true king is or even as an allegory for the King of Kings himself, the One True King that Tolkien passionately devoted himself to. But Tolkien does take an interesting and complex view of this:
Even the struggle between darkness and light (as [Rayner Unwin] calls it, not me) is for me just a particular phase of history, one example of its pattern, perhaps, but not The Pattern; and the actors are individuals – they each, of course, contain universals, or they would not live at all, but they never represent them as such. Of course Allegory and Story converge, meeting somewhere in Truth. So that the only perfectly consistent allegory is a real life; and the only fully intelligible story is an allegory.

Letter 109 to Sir Stanley Unwin, 31 July 1947, The Letters of J R R Tolkien ed. Humphrey Carpenter, Christopher Tolkien. Harper Collins 1981).
Tolkien himself hated the whole idea of The Lord of the Rings being specifically an allegory and rejected any direct Christianisation of his pre-Christian world, but he did recognise the fact that profound universal truths appear constantly in myths, would appear in his myths, that they are, in fact, what gives them life. They can’t help but burst into any great story including Christ’s own story. He called them ‘a glimpse that is actually a ray of light through the very chinks of the universe about us’ (letter 88 to Christopher Tolkien, 28th October 1944).

Tolkien saw that the major flaw of the Arthurian legends as a true English mythology was that they had been explicitly Christianised. It’s a road Tolkien certainly didn’t want to go down. When talking about religion in The Lord of the Rings in his letter to Milton Waldman, Tolkien said:
Myth and fairy-story must, as all art, reflect and contain in solution elements of moral and religious truth (or error), but not explicit, not in the known form of the primary ‘real’ world.

Letter 131 to Milton Waldman, late 1951, The Letters of J R R Tolkien ed. Humphrey Carpenter, Christopher Tolkien. Harper Collins 1981).
So in what form do these religious and moral truths appear in The Lord of the Rings and how do they relate to Aragorn, Sauron and Kingship?


Sacred Kingship

Sacred kingship is a huge and complex idea ranging from kings who believed they were a God (clearly not Aragorn, though we can apply it to Sauron) to kings who represented God or the gods, to kings whose rule was somehow sanctified, priestly and thus contained elements of the supernatural. It’s the latter interpretation that interests me in relation to Aragorn as his story contains nearly every element of this kind of sacred kingship that has ever appeared in myth, whether intentionally on the part of Tolkien or not. Many of these elements are also embodied in Christ and his life and there are parallels there, although, as we have seen, in no way is Aragorn a deliberate ‘Christ figure’. In fact the sacrificial side of Kingship, expanded below, is seen more in Frodo and Gandalf. Perhaps some of these universal King myths are part of the story that Tolkien ‘waited to be told’ as The Lord of the Rings progressed – that he discovered as he went along when he finally, after a long struggle, began to find out who Aragorn actually was after appearing mysteriously to him (as well as us) in the Inn at Bree. As I mentioned above, great truths will burst into great stories and Aragorn is given all the tasks, signs and gifts that reveal a true King, not just one born to it but destined to heal and restore because they are somehow tied cosmologically to the destiny of the land they rule.

It’s significant and worth noting here that unlike other kingships in Middle-earth or the real world, no one else but the true heir can claim the title of King in what’s left of ancient Gondor. Since the last King rode into Mordor and never returned the Southern Kingdom has been governed for hundreds of years by Stewards acting in the King’s name. There is no question of them taking the title of King, nor or anyone other than the True King claiming it.

It’s also important to note that “Sacred Kingship” shouldn’t be confused with a “Divine King”. Sacred Kingship is the spiritual authority invested in the King to rule, not his actual person or the control he has over his subjects and, in The Lord of the Rings, we are identifying sacral elements wound into Aragorn’s journey to the throne that elevate this journey to mythic status.

I’ve identified several main characteristics of Sacred Kingship. They are drawn from various world mythologies and there are very few mythologies that contain all of them although most will have more than one. I have also drawn from Christianity and the events that mark Christ’s kingship and authority.


Mythological and religious elements of a Sacred King:

1. Descent from the gods or God (Theseus, Romulus and Remus, Aeneas, Odysseus, Ancient Egypt, Mesopotamia, Japan, Peru, Christianity)

2. Noble heritage but brought up in obscurity (Theseus, Jason, Romulus and Remus, King Arthur)

3. Tempered by exile, wandering or in the wilderness (Christianity, Jason, Odysseus)

4. Healing powers (Christianity, Christian Kingship; Kings of England since Edward the Confessor – both Charles 1 and 11 claimed to cure the King’s Evil, Kings of France since Clovis, Jason – his name means healer, Celtic Ireland; Cormac Mac Art)

5. Oracular powers (Aeneas, Odysseus, Ancient Egypt, Mesopotamia, Peru, Christianity)

6. Journey through the Underworld (Ancient Greece and Rome; Odysseus, Aeneas, Ancient Egypt. Mayan Civilisation, Christianity)

7. Power to summon or commune with the dead (Aeneas, Odysseus, Christianity, Ancient Egypt)

8. Sacrifice (Christianity, Pre-Classical Greece and Rome)

9. Marriage to the goddess (Celtic Ireland, Mesopotamia)

10. Power to regenerate the land (Celtic Ireland, King Arthur, Ancient Egypt, Ancient Greece, Scandanavia)

11. Power or obligation to lay down his own life or Kingship when it’s waning (Celtic, Irish King Cormac Mac Art, Pre-Classical Greece and Rome)


Parallels in Aragorn’s story:

Below I’ve related these elements to the different stages and attributes of Aragorn’s story. Some of the links are extremely strong, others weak but interesting in the context of the whole. Some, like sacrifice, are more directly paralleled in Gandalf and Frodo, but all are present in one form or another in Aragorn’s myth.


Descent from the ‘gods’:

Aragorn is descended from a Maiar (Melian) one of the ‘gods’ and also from the Elves via Lúthien, her daughter. It’s a long descent but he is more than human in the ordinary sense. As Legolas says:
”In that hour I looked on Aragorn and thought how great and terrible a Lord he might have become in the strength of his will, had he taken the Ring to himself. Not for naught does Mordor fear him. But nobler is his spirit than the understanding of Sauron; for is he not of the children of Lúthien? Never shall that line fail, though the years may lengthen beyond count.”

The Lord of the Rings Book 5 Chapter 9
Noble Heritage but brought up in obscurity:

Sacred Kings are often the heir to Kings who have not come into their heritage, but who live a humble life without the trappings due to their nobility i.e. King Arthur, Jason and Theseus. They must complete a trial or a journey or suffer to earn their rightful place. There is no need to go into details of how much this applies to Aragorn!

Exile and years in the Wilderness:

Aragorn is the exiled heir of Isildur whose identity is known to very few except Elrond, Arwen and Galadriel. He has spent long homeless years wandering in the northern reaches, protecting the Shire, and tracking Gollum through desolate regions. He serves other kings and rulers under assumed names.

Healing powers:

He heals throughout the book, but most especially after the Battle of Pelennor Fields where he brings Faramir, Eowyn and Merry back from the brink of death.
“The hands of the king are the hands of a healer, and so shall the rightful king be known.”

The Lord of the Rings, Book 5 Chapter 8
Oracular Powers:

Only Aragorn can fully control the Palantir through sheer strength of will. And the Palantir belongs rightfully to him alone. Although this isn’t evidence of supernatural power or his seeing into the future that marks some sacred kingships, he has access to a gift of the gods (the Valar) that only he or his appointed steward can use and which gives him knowledge of what is happening in the world beyond the ordinary powers of men.

Journey through the Underworld:

Aragorn must take the Paths of the Dead through the Dimholt in order to come to Minas Tirith and claim his kingship. This is a dread journey through darkness and surrounded by the dead that parallels other more explicit underworld journeys. Mythologically, journeys through the Underworld are a symbolic ‘death’ and ‘resurrection’. The Paths of the Dead are not only haunted - no man has ever come through them alive.

Power to summon or commune with the dead:

When Aragorn summons the Army of the Dead they have no choice but to follow him and as they ride to the Stone of Erech the people in the hamlets they pass through believe him to be ‘the King of the Dead’. Only he can hold them to their oath and only he can release them in peace. In the House of Healing he comes pretty close to raising the dead. It isn’t just a healing - Faramir comes back because he recognises his King and he must obey:
For Aragorn’s face grew grey with weariness; and ever and anon he called the name of Faramir, but each time more faintly to their hearing, as if Aragorn himself was removed from them, and walked afar in dome dark vale, calling for one that was lost.

The Lord of the Rings, Book 5 Chapter 8
“My Lord, you called me. I come. What does the King command?”

The Lord of the Rings, Book 5 Chapter 8
Sacrifice:

Aragorn leads a suicidal march to the Black Gate in order to give Frodo time and distract Sauron, but there are many other sacrifices. He is prepared to give up all hope of going straight to Minas Tirith when Gandalf dies – he is ready to go to Mordor with Frodo if necessary and finally he abandons all idea of it in order to save Merry and Pippin. By giving up Minas Tirith he gives up his hope of Kingship and of Arwen.

Marriage to the goddess:

Arwen isn’t quite a goddess, though descended from Melian like Aragorn, but neither is she human. She is the brightest star of her people and Aragorn’s reward. Although she gives up her immortality for a mortal’s fate she is still a higher being and her arrival in Minas Tirith after finding the sapling of the White Tree is also mystical as is their wedding on Midsummer’s Day.

Power to regenerate the land:

At his coronation (May Day) and wedding (Midsummer’s Day) – both very important days in the Celtic calendar - the sun shines, the day is beautiful and even nature seems to be rejoicing.

As the returning True King, Aragorn rebuilds Minas Tirith – Tolkien waxes lyrical in his description here, he could almost be describing the Holy City - re-unites the Northern and Southern Kingdoms of Gondor, brings peace where he can and, symbolically, finds the sapling of the White Tree which he returns to Minas Tirith. This represents more than anything the fertility and strength of the renewed line of the Kings. There will be no more Kings in the line if there are no more descendents of Nimloth, the white tree of Numenor, hence Aragorn’s despair of who will come after him when he first ascends to Mindolluin with Gandalf.
“The White Tree [Tal-Palantir] tended again with honour; and he prophesied, saying that when the Tree perished, then also would the line of the Kings come to its end.”

Akallabêth, The Silmarillion.
Fertility and Kingship are tied symbolically together in the White Tree which is why Isildur dares to enter the forbidden Courts of the King in Numenor to take a fruit from the tree. Sauron, on the other hand, persuades Ar-Pharazon to cut down the White Tree and set up a temple to Morgoth.

Aragorn is also known, in his own words to Pippin, as “Envinyatar, the Renewer.” This is more than a renewal of the land, it is also, surprisingly, a renewal of worship:
It later appears that there had been a ‘hallow’ on Mindolluin, only approachable by the King, where he had anciently offered thanks and praise on behalf of his people; but it had been forgotten. It was re-entered by Aragorn, and there he found a sapling of the White Tree, and replanted it in the Court of the Fountain. It is to be presumed that with the re-emergence of the lineal priest kings (of whom Luthien the Blessed Elf-maiden was a foremother) the worship of God would be renewed, and His Name (or title) be again more often heard. But there would be no temple of the True God while Numenorean influence lasted.

Letter 156 to Robert Murray (draft) 4 November 1954. (p. 200 The Letters of J R R Tolkien ed. Humphrey Carpenter, Christopher Tolkien. Harper Collins 1981).
It is clear here that Tolkien saw the Kings of Numenor as a priestly line, representing the people before God in a Hallow (not a temple) that only the King could approach.

Power or obligation to lay down his own life or Kingship when it’s waning:

This is particular to the Kings of Numenor, that they can will themselves to die when age starts to wither them, rather than await the natural decay of other men. This will to die is very like the myths surrounding the sacred sun kings of ancient religions who would kill themselves or face death in combat so that a younger, more virile ruler could take over, and the Celtic Kings who were under obligation to step down if injured or marred. Aragorn dies so that Eldarion can take over and maintain the strength and power of Gondor. It is the unwillingness of the old kings of Numenor to yield to death that leads directly to their sailing for Valinor and Numenor’s destruction. Desire for even longer life is the weakness sitting at the heart of their power. Aragorn, though, is a throwback to the first kings of ancient Numenor who put their kingdom and people first.
“And long there he lay, an image of the splendour of the Kings of Men in glory undimmed before the breaking of the world.”

The Lord of the Rings Appendix: The Tale of Aragorn and Arwen
‘Before the breaking of the world’ is, of course, before the Numenorean kings became arrogant, sailed for Valinor, Numenor was destroyed and the world made round.


Aragorn may be a man (albeit descended from a Maiar), but he is drawn from so many larger myths that he is more the counterpart of Sauron (as a higher angelic being) than he appears to be. He is the True King, whereas Sauron is a False King – a shadow of what a king should be,


Sauron as the False King

Sauron starts off with good intentions, he wants to heal Middle-earth after it was torn and left desolate by the Valar’s final battle against Morgoth. He sees it as work that they have left undone and he wants to make it beautiful again:
[Sauron] repents in fear when the First Enemy is utterly defeated, but in the end does not do as was commanded, return to the judgement of the gods. He lingers in Middle-earth. Very slowly, beginning with fair motives: the reorganising and rehabilitation of the ruin of Middle-earth, ‘neglected by the gods’, he becomes a reincarnation of Evil, and a thing lusting for Complete Power…[italic mine]

Letter 131 to Milton Waldman, late 1951, The Letters of J R R Tolkien ed. Humphrey Carpenter, Christopher Tolkien. Harper Collins 1981).
But this is not his remit and it leads him into pride, a desire for absolute power and his attempt to seduce the Elves of Eregion. The healing of Middle-earth is properly the role of the Children of Iluvatar: Firstly the Elves that are left, and finally, at the end of the Third Age, the role of Men led by Aragorn.

So what kind of King does Sauron become? In his attempt to rule Middle-earth Sauron uses the Nine Rings to corrupt the mighty kings of his day, offering them power, an unending life and the ability to a walk in invisible worlds. He rules ‘by force and fear’ [The Silmarillion]. He sets himself up as god, knowing most men to the east and south have never been befriended by the Elves and told of the Valar and Iluvatar, and maintains a fair mask (which he could still do up until the fall of Numenor).
In the east and south well nigh all Men were under his dominion, and they grew strong in those days and built many towns and walls of stone, and they were numerous and fierce in war and armed with iron. To them Sauron was both King and god; and they feared him exceedingly, for he surrounded his abode with fire[my italics]

The Silmarillion 1977
But all this comes to an end when the powerful and ambitious Numenoreans establish a haven on the Anduin, right on Sauron’s doorstep. From then on they become his chief enemy in the struggle to rule Middle-earth. “He brooked no freedom nor any rivalry, and he named himself Lord of the Earth” [The Silmarillion]. To quote again the letter to Robert Murray “It was on the kingship question that Ar-pharazôn the 13th and mightiest King of Numenor challenged him primarily.” While Sauron plots to finally take Middle-earth by force at the end of the Third Age his greatest fear is realised. The Numenoreans have risen again; the heir of Isildur has revealed himself and has a Palantir, the sword of Elendil and, perhaps, the Ring. From this moment on he thinks about and sees nothing else. He ignores warnings that something strange may be on the stairs at Cirith Ungol, misses the Hobbits entirely and attacks too early. As Aragorn himself says “To know that I lived and walked the earth was a blow to his heart, I deem; for he knew it not till now.”

When looking at Saruon and Aragorn as opposites, as a true and a false king, it’s clear that the mythological trappings of Sacred Kingship can’t all be applied to Sauron – he is, after all, not the true king of Middle-earth but a pretender – but there are many aspects of the role that he claims or mimics in order to establish himself, or which are in direct opposition to Aragorn, or which Tolkien has directly or indirectly written into his story so it’s worth briefly looking at some of them.


Descent from the ‘gods’:

Sauron is a Maiar, not ‘decended from’ but a lesser god in his own right and he claims both godship and the kingship of Middle-earth

Tempered by exile and years in the wilderness:

Sauron is self-exiled from Valinor and the grace of the gods, seeing himself as misunderstood, but instead of exile tempering his character it leads to bitterness and a lust for power.

Healing powers:

Rather than a healer, Sauron is a destroyer and deformer of creation in the same way that Morgoth was. The Ringwraithes were originally men.

Oracular powers:

Sauron also uses the Palantir but he uses it to deceive Saruman and Denethor and he has no given right to use it.

Journey through the Underworld:

Not really comparable, although Sauron has twice been physically destroyed and consigned to the shadows, once when Numenor fell and after the Ring was cut from his finger. With each trial he grows weaker.

Power to summon or commune with the dead:

Sauron has power over the Ringwraithes – neither living nor dead – and the Ring is a doorway to entering the spirit world. He also sends and controls the barrow-wights who plan to kill the hobbits and hold them in the barrow “until the Dark Lord lifts his hand”. As Kocher says in Master of Middle-earth “The Whole episode is significant as showing the range of Sauron’s powers and hopes. From the remoteness of Mordor he is able to bend the ghosts of dead men to his purposes….”

Sacrifice:

Sauron gives a substantial part of his life-force to the Ring, weakening for ever his powers without it. This is a sacrifice for his own ends, a gamble to gain complete control that destroys him in the end.

Power to regenerate the land:

This is probably the most important attribute because Sauron’s original motivation for staying in Middle-earth after the fall of Morgoth was to regenerate the shattered land. But he becomes a destroyer instead and lives surrounded by desolation.

Power or obligation to lay down his own life or Kingships when it’s waning:

Unlike Aragorn, he never willingly relinquishes his life in Middle-earth, he returns again and again in new and ever more corrupt incarnations until the destruction of the Ring.



Conclusion

I wrote at the beginning of this essay:
“Sacred Kingship” shouldn’t be confused with a “Divine King”. Sacred Kingship is the spiritual authority invested in the King to rule, not his actual person or the control he has over his subjects.
For Sauron kingship is all about the latter, his person (he is a lesser god) and his control over others which is exercised using fear and war. With Aragorn, the true King, it is the former – his spiritual authority to rule.

As Paul Kocher points out in his book Master of Middle-earth: The Achievement of JRR Tolkien “There, and on the plains of Pelennor, [Aragorn] overcomes the enemies of Gondor by arms. But Gondor itself he overcomes by love…..They are looking for leadership anyway, and Aragorn comes to them with all the authentic marks of monarch and saviour.” This is more than the ancient mythologies, this is Kingship as exemplified by Christ the King. I don’t believe we are looking at allegory here – Tolkien would forbid it – but that “glimpse that is actually a ray of light through the very chinks of the universe about us” quoted in the letter above.

As Sauron grows more evil in his attempts to rule Middle-earth, so his physical appearance goes from fair to hideous with each failed attempt and re-incarnation. But his spirit is also diminished from what it once was in its first angelic state. He becomes single minded, blind to all that doesn’t suit his purpose and plans, dark, isolated and even split between his last physical incarnation and the Ring. In the end he becomes nothing. There is nothingness in the middle of the Great Eye and, at the end, he is just a shadow blown away by a great wind. As Sauron diminishes with each attempt to become the king and god of Middle-earth, so Aragorn grows as he takes each step closer to the throne. He moves from the “rascally look” the hobbits are unnerved by in Bree to a figure increasingly glimpsed as both beautiful and noble. He gathers friends along the way who would walk even the Paths of the Dead with him. Eomer loves him as soon as he sees him, as does Faramir. Finally he is revealed as:
“Tall as the sea-kings of old, he stood above all that were near; ancient of days he seemed and yet in the flower of manhood; and wisdom sat upon his brow, and strength and healing were in his hands, and a light was about him. And then Faramir cried:

“Behold the King!”

The Lord of the Rings, Book 6 Chapter 5
It is easy to be carried away with all of this but Tolkien never allows us to forget Aragorn the man, the true friend and humble Ranger who can sit and banter and smoke pipe-weed with Hobbits as well as inspire awe and devotion from the people of Gondor.

When Aragorn is crowned he is accepted first by the people who cry “yea with one voice”. Unlike Sauron who wants to bend every free will to his own until only his own will endures, Aragorn, who has a rightful claim to the throne, will only rule with the freely given consent of his people. He doesn’t crown himself in the tradition of the Kings of old. He recognises that the efforts of many have brought him to his throne and gives the crown to Frodo who passes it to Gandalf. As Gandalf crowns him he says “Now come the days of the King, and may they be blessed while the thrones of the Valar endure!” Thus he invokes the renewed blessing of the Valar who originally gave Numenor to the ancestors of Aragorn for fighting with them against Morgoth, and gives us one of the rare religious statements in whole of The Lord of the Rings.

Here at last is the long awaited True King, tempered by trials, accompanied by signs of authority, loved and accepted by his subjects, bringing healing, protection and justice, a form of rule that would be for ever beyond the understanding and power of the tyrant, false god and false king, Sauron.



References

The Lord of the Rings, J R R Tolkien [George Allen and Unwin 1954]

The Silmarillion, J R R Tolkien, [George Allen and Unwin 1973]

Unfinished Tales, J R R Tolkien [George Allen and Unwin 1980]

The Letters of J R R Tolkien ed. Humphrey Carpenter, Christopher Tolkien. [Harper Collins 1981].

Master of Middle-earth: The Achievement of JRR Tolkien, Paul Kocher [Thames and Hudson 1973]

Myths and Legends of the Celtic Race, T W Rolleston [Constable and Co. Ltd. 1985]

New Larousse Encyclopedia of Mythology Ed. Félix Giurand [The Hamlyn Publishing Group Ltd. New Ed. 1968]

The Encyclopedia of Mythology, Arthur Cotterell [Lorenz Books 1996]

Creavtive Mythology: The Marks of God, Joseph Campbell [Viking Penguin 1968]

The Greek Myths vols 1 & 2, Robert Graves [Penguin Books 1955]
Now let the song begin! Let us sing together
Of sun, stars, moon and mist, rain and cloudy weather...

Merry
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Post by Merry » Tue Feb 27, 2007 5:01 am

Oh, Iolanthe! What a terrific essay! Your argument is well-argued and your interpretation is right on. Your list of the elements of archetypal kingship with the myths that support the items is really convincing!

It made me see in a new way the other side of the story, as it were: Morgoth and Sauron pervert their divine natures by lowering themselves to desire to rule Middle-earth. It is a sin against the reality of Middle-earth, but also a sin against their own beings, which gradually are eaten away because of it. In the opposite way, Aragorn grows in his personhood as he comes into his own.

Did Tolkien intend for Aragorn to be seen as a 'Christ-figure'? I guess it depends on what that means. Certainly he did not mean for Aragorn to be only a Christ-figure--that would be allegory, I guess. But I think you do a terrific job of articulating the Christ-like overtones. We don't do a lot of thinking about kings over here in the colonies, so I'm not sure about this, but are there also elements of the priest in the True King archetype? I detect some of them in Aragorn.

Brava!
Sing and be glad, all ye children of the West,
for your King shall come again,
and he shall dwell among you
all the days of your life.

Elorin
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Post by Elorin » Tue Feb 27, 2007 10:19 am

After a long time I finally could visit this website again. I really want to thank you for this wonderful essay. It reminds me of my thoughts of Aragorn as a "prototype" of a king as he should be - like what is written in a chapter in the bible (Psalm 72). The images of kings in different myths and stories seem almost perfectly styled to one king. I am looking forward to many more thought-provoking essays :D
Elorin

Iolanthe
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Post by Iolanthe » Tue Feb 27, 2007 11:58 am

Thank you both! And welcome back Elorin :D .

This is something that has been going round and round my head for some time and nagging me to get it into shape :lol: . I do think that Aragorn is based on a prototype of what a king should be - something that appears again and again in mythology but very seldom fulfilled. Many mythological kings have all the sacred trappings and duties. Their stories grew from forgotten rituals into great myths often involving heroic efforts to 'become who they were born to be' and then overthrown by some basic flaw that leads to their downfall - hence greek tragedy!
Merry wrote:Did Tolkien intend for Aragorn to be seen as a 'Christ-figure'? I guess it depends on what that means. Certainly he did not mean for Aragorn to be only a Christ-figure--that would be allegory..
I think that it is implicit rather then explicit. To Tolkien, Christ would be the embodiment and fulfilment of the archetypal Sacred King - one who doesn't get overthrown by some great flaw. If Aragorn was going to be a great King then he would have to have Christ-like kingly qualities, even though Tolkien doesn't pretend Aragorn is perfect. But there is 'rightness' about his taking the throne of Gondor and his rule is a Golden Age.
Merry wrote:We don't do a lot of thinking about kings over here in the colonies, so I'm not sure about this, but are there also elements of the priest in the True King archetype? I detect some of them in Aragorn.
Definitely yes! And the famous letter to Robert Murray makes it clear that Tolkien intended this in his mind even if he didn't make it explicit in the book:
It is to be presumed that with the re-emergence of the lineal priest kings (of whom Luthien the Blessed Elf-maiden was a foremother) the worship of God would be renewed, and His Name (or title) be again more often heard. But there would be no temple of the True God while Numenorean influence lasted.

Letter 156 to Robert Murray (draft) 4 November 1954. (p. 200 The Letters of J R R Tolkien ed. Humphrey Carpenter, Christopher Tolkien. Harper Collins 1981).
I'm so glad you've enjoyed this essay - I can't tell you the fun I've had writing it and finally getting it all down on paper :D .
Now let the song begin! Let us sing together
Of sun, stars, moon and mist, rain and cloudy weather...

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Post by Lindariel » Tue Feb 27, 2007 4:09 pm

Iolanthe, this is wonderful, just wonderful. Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts with us!

I think the reality of Elessar as priest-king is most fully illuminated in the way he surrenders his life:
"Nay, lady, I am the last of the Numenoreans and the latest King of the Elder Days; and to me has been given not only a span thrice that of Men of Middle-earth, but also the grace to go at my will, and give back the gift . . . In sorrow we must go, but not in despair. Behold! we are not bound for ever to the circles of the world, and beyond them is more than memory."
To give back the gift! Beyond [the circles of the world] is more than memory! Elessar is revealed at the end of his life as a man of faith -- a true Warrior-Priest-King.
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Post by Merry » Tue Feb 27, 2007 4:17 pm

Yes. There are other elements: King Elessar singing the ancient words at his coronation and Aragorn's forgiveness and blessing of Boromir at his death.

The priest (both pre- and post-Christian) mediates between the divine and the human. As you point out, Iolanthe, Aragorn does this in his own person, uniting the long history of the peoples of Middle-earth.
Sing and be glad, all ye children of the West,
for your King shall come again,
and he shall dwell among you
all the days of your life.

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Post by hope » Wed Feb 28, 2007 11:39 pm

terrific work Iolanthe :D Much food for thought here!!!

You have had some great responses to your essay, i cannot add anything else whcih has not been said. :D


well done :D
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Post by marbretherese » Fri Mar 02, 2007 2:16 pm

Thanks for this, Iolanthe, it's excellent. I so agree:
He is, in fact, more than a king in the ordinary sense of the word, and it is this ‘something more’ that truly sets him up as Sauron’s opposite. It is also this ‘something more’ that makes Aragorn’s character so tantalizing.
'tantalizing' is exactly right!

You also mention, almost in passing, something typical of Tolkien:
Just as you expect him to elaborate on his last comment he veers off to talk about Balrogs and leaves us wondering: In what way is Aragorn Sauron’s opposite?
Time and again a throwaway comment in the letters makes one 'double take' and want to know more. Which is also tantalizing in its own way!!!
"Torment in the dark was the danger that I feared, and it did not hold me back.
But I would not have come, had I known the danger of light and joy."


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Iolanthe
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Post by Iolanthe » Mon Mar 05, 2007 11:39 am

It is! As I've been reading the letters I've made notes of several tantalizing comments that have left me wondering. There are several more essays in the offing :lol: .
Now let the song begin! Let us sing together
Of sun, stars, moon and mist, rain and cloudy weather...

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