The Steward and the King
The last chapter saw the entire surviving Fellowship re-united for the first time since Moria. But this chapter steps back to just after the departure of the armies on what seems then like a doomed venture.
It also breaks the normal rules by having long narratives told without a hobbit mentioned. Though Merry was left in the Houses of Healing, and you might expect him to talk with Eowyn.[A] But that’s not what we are initially told of.
Instead we have Eowyn discontented at being confined. Almost discontented with still being alive, though she puts it more conventionally:
“When the Captains were but two days gone, the Lady Eowyn bade the women who tended her to bring her raiment, and she would not be gainsaid, but rose; and when they had clothed her and set her arm in a sling of linen, she went to the Warden of the Houses of Healing.
“‘Sir,’ she said, ‘I am in great unrest, and I cannot lie longer in sloth’
Note that Tolkien’s original schema would have had her die in battle. But now he shapes a better fate for her.
First we get a clash of viewpoints:
“Are there no tidings of war? The women can tell me nothing.’
“‘There are no tidings,’ said the Warden, ‘save that the Lords have ridden to Morgul Vale; and men say that the new captain out of the North is their chief. A great lord is that, and a healer; and it is a thing passing strange to me that the healing hand should also wield the sword. It is not thus in Gondor now, though once it was so, if old tales be true. But for long years we healers have only sought to patch the rents made by the men of swords. Though we should still have enough to do without them: the world is full enough of hurts and mischances without wars to multiply them.’
“It needs but one foe to breed a war, not two, Master Warden’, answered Eowyn. ‘And those who have not swords can still die upon them. Would you have the folk of Gondor gather you herbs only, when the Dark Lord gathers armies? And it is not always good to be healed in body. Nor is it always evil to die in battle, even in bitter pain. Were I permitted, in this dark hour I would choose the latter.’”
But who could permit?
“‘Who commands in this City?’
“‘I do not rightly know,’ he answered. ‘Such things are not my care. There is a marshal over the Riders of Rohan; and the Lord Hurin, I am told, commands the men of Gondor. But the Lord Faramir is by right the Steward of the City.’”
He’s still recovering, but Eowyn complains to him:
“‘It is not lack of care that grieves me. No houses could be fairer, for those who desire to be healed. But I cannot lie in sloth, idle, caged. I looked for death in battle. But I have not died, and battle still goes on’…
“‘What do you wish?’ he said again. ‘If it lies in my power, I will do it.’
“‘I would have you command this Warden, and bid him let me go,’ she said; but though her words were still proud, her heart faltered, and for the first time she doubted herself. She guessed that this tall man, both stern and gentle, might think her merely wayward, like a child that has not the firmness of mind to go on with a dull task to the end.
“‘I myself am in the Warden’s keeping,’ answered Faramir. ‘Nor have I yet taken up my authority in the City. But had I done so, I should still listen to his counsel, and should not cross his will in matters of his craft, unless in some great need.’
“‘But I do not desire healing,’ she said. ‘I wish to ride to war like my brother Eomer, or better like Theoden the king, for he died and has both honour and peace.’
“‘It is too late, lady, to follow the Captains, even if you had the strength,’ said Faramir. ‘But death in battle may come to us all yet, willing or unwilling.’”
He is interested in her as a woman, but she thinks otherwise:
“‘Shadow lies on me still. Look not to me for healing! I am a shieldmaiden and my hand is ungentle. But I thank you for this at least, that I need not keep to my chamber.’”
Being smart, Faramir does not directly challenge her unhelpful attitude. He learns from the Warden of the link to Merry:
“And so Merry was sent to Faramir, and while that day lasted they talked long together, and Faramir learned much, more even than Merry put into words; and he thought that he understood now something of the grief and unrest of Eowyn of Rohan. And in the fair evening Faramir and Merry walked in the garden, but she did not come.”
He later gets her to walk with him, and accept the gift of a mantle that had belonged to Faramir’s long-dead mother. And gets her talking to him.
“‘What do you look for, Eowyn?’ said Faramir.
“‘Does not the Black Gate lie yonder?’ said she. ‘And must he not now be come thither? It is seven days since he rode away.’”
Together they witness the Fall of Sauron, but without being sure what it is:
“It seemed to them as they stood upon the wall that the wind died, and the light failed, and the Sun was bleared, and all sounds in the City or in the lands about were hushed: neither wind, nor voice, nor bird-call, nor rustle of leaf, nor their own breath could be heard; the very beating of their hearts was stilled. Time halted.
“And as they stood so, their hands met and clasped, though they did not know it. And still they waited for they knew not what. Then presently it seemed to them that above the ridges of the distant mountains another vast mountain of darkness rose, towering up like a wave that should engulf the world, and about it lightnings flickered; and then a tremor ran through the earth, and they felt the walls of the City quiver. A sound like a sigh went up from all the lands about them; and their hearts beat suddenly again.
“‘It reminds me of Numenor,’ said Faramir, and wondered to hear himself speak.
“‘Of Numenor?’ said Eowyn.
“‘Yes,’ said Faramir, ‘of the land of Westernesse that foundered and of the great dark wave climbing over the green lands and above the hills, and coming on, darkness unescapable. I often dream of it.’”
This was Tolkien’s dream, and he tells us that his son Christopher also had it, without being told of it.
This had long puzzled me – neither of them would make up such a story. But I don’t believe in the supernatural, and am certain that Atlantis never existed.
And then I got the answer from an unexpected place.
As a child, I had read the full trilogy that Nesbit wrote about the children who find a Psammead, a Sand-Fairy. Five Children and It has been filmed several times, but the two following stories are strangely neglected. Maybe they’ll be done now with the rise of streaming television, which gives ordinary viewers much more influence.
The third book, The Story of the Amulet, is a series of time-travel events reminiscent of Doctor Who. I have never seen it mentioned as a source, but it could be one.
I recently re-read it. Mostly for a visit to a future that is a Wellsian utopia, in line with Nesbit’s own views. But I also re-read their visit to the past, which includes Atlantis. Which they see destroyed by a single huge wave.
I had forgotten this detail, despite having previously pondering the very similar image from Tolkien.
Almost certainly, the same thing happened to Professor Tolkien and his son.
Tolkien was born 1892. The Amulet story came out in 1906, as the end of a series that began in 1902, so they might have been among his early reading. Or maybe he read them to his children. And later dreamed the image, but forgot where it came from.
It has also been claimed that C S Lewis borrowed elements from The Story of the Amulet for his Narnia stories.[B]
Within Lord of the Rings, the vision of the Drowned Land is a distraction:
“‘Then you think that the Darkness is coming?’ said Eowyn. ‘Darkness Unescapable?’ And suddenly she drew close to him.
“‘No,’ said Faramir, looking into her face. ‘It was but a picture in the mind. I do not know what is happening. The reason of my waking mind tells me that great evil has befallen and we stand at the end of days. But my heart says nay; and all my limbs are light, and a hope and joy are come to me that no reason can deny. Eowyn, Eowyn, White Lady of Rohan, in this hour I do not believe that any darkness will endure!’ And he stooped and kissed her brow.
The eagle then arrives and tells them of Sauron’s defeat. Faramir knows of the Ring-Quest, having guessed it after meeting Frodo, but he is probably the only one in the city who does. And would now tell the others, but we are not given that. The actual narrative is more significant:
“Merry was summoned and rode away with the wains that took store of goods to Osgiliath … but Faramir did not go, for now being healed he took upon him his authority and the Stewardship, although it was only for a little while, and his duty was to prepare for one who should replace him.
“And Eowyn did not go, though her brother sent word begging her to come to the field of Cormallen. And Faramir wondered at this, but he saw her seldom, being busy with many matters; and she dwelt still in the Houses of Healing and walked alone in the garden, and her face grew pale again, and it seemed that in all the City she only was ailing and sorrowful. And the Warden of the Houses was troubled, and he spoke to Faramir.”
And only now does he confront the main issue:
“‘You do not go, because only your brother called for you, and to look on the Lord Aragorn, Elendil’s heir, in his triumph would now bring you no joy. Or because I do not go, and you desire still to be near me. And maybe for both these reasons, and you yourself cannot choose between them. Eowyn, do you not love me, or will you not?’
“‘I wished to be loved by another,’ she answered. ‘But I desire no man’s pity.’
“‘That I know,’ he said. ‘You desired to have the love of the Lord Aragorn. Because he was high and puissant, and you wished to have renown and glory and to be lifted far above the mean things that crawl on the earth. And as a great captain may to a young soldier he seemed to you admirable. For so he is, a lord among men, the greatest that now is. But when he gave you only understanding and pity, then you desired to have nothing, unless a brave death in battle…
“‘Do not scorn pity that is the gift of a gentle heart, Eowyn! But I do not offer you my pity. For you are a lady high and valiant and have yourself won renown that shall not be forgotten; and you are a lady beautiful, I deem, beyond even the words of the Elven-tongue to tell. And I love you. Once I pitied your sorrow. But now, were you sorrowless, without fear or any lack, were you the blissful Queen of Gondor, still I would love you. Eowyn, do you not love me?’
“Then the heart of Eowyn changed, or else at last she understood it. And suddenly her winter passed, and the sun shone on her.”
She can then joke of her earlier feelings:
“‘And would you have your proud folk say of you: “There goes a lord who tamed a wild shieldmaiden of the North! Was there no woman of the race of Numenor to choose?”
Very nice. But in a real mediaeval world, such a union would need permission from the new King of Rohan and the new King of Gondor. But Tolkien maybe thought that things in a more distant age would have been closer to what he thought right.
This resolved, they await the arrival of the victorious. But we see it from the viewpoint of the women of the city – including Ioreth, who unknowingly played a key role by reminding Gandalf that the former Kings were healers. The role of the hobbits is known to them, but in a muddled manner:
“‘Those are Periain, out of the far country of the Halflings, where they are princes of great fame, it is said. I should know, for I had one to tend in the Houses. They are small, but they are valiant. Why, cousin, one of them went with only his esquire into the Black Country and fought with the Dark Lord all by himself, and set fire to his Tower, if you can believe it. At least that is the tale in the City.”
But has the real story been given? Most people would be baffled that Frodo, having done so much, then nearly ruined everything by claiming the One Ring rather than destroying it. But you could tell an almost-complete narrative and let it be assumed that Frodo was only prevented from personally destroying the One Ring by Gollum seizing it.
We are told that Aragorn did not speak of Boromir’s attempt to seize the ring until long afterwards. And Frodo when caught by Faramir in Ithilien does not say what Boromir did, though Faramir guesses it.
Regardless, we now have Aragorn crowned. First Faramir surrenders his office, and Aragorn gives it back to him – the position had existed under the former Kings, after all. And then the crowning:
“Faramir opened the casket, and he held up an ancient crown…
“Then to the wonder of many Aragorn did not put the crown upon his head, but gave it back to Faramir, and said: ‘By the labour and valour of many I have come into my inheritance. In token of this I would have the Ring-bearer bring the crown to me, and let Mithrandir set it upon my head, if he will; for he has been the mover of all that has been accomplished, and this is his victory.’
“Then Frodo came forward and took the crown from Faramir and bore it to Gandalf; and Aragorn knelt, and Gandalf set the White Crown upon his head, and said:
“‘Now come the days of the King, and may they be blessed while the thrones of the Valar endure!’
This is in line with what the Roman Catholic Church managed to establish for the Western Emperors. Byzantine Emperors crowned themselves, and presumably the previous Kings of Gondor had done so. And presumably later kings will, with Gandalf gone.
We then have Beregond forgiven for his technical treason against Denethor, which saved Faramir:
“‘All penalty is remitted for your valour in battle, and still more because all that you did was for the love of the Lord Faramir. Nonetheless you must leave the Guard of the Citadel, and you must go forth from the City of Minas Tirith.’
“Then the blood left Beregond’s face, and he was stricken to the heart and bowed his head. But the King said.:
“‘So it must be, for you are appointed to the White Company, the Guard of Faramir, Prince of Ithilien, and you shall be its captain and dwell in Emyn Arnen in honour and peace, and in the service of him for whom you risked all, to save him from death.’”
Eowyn goes back to Rohan to see her uncle buried, and help her brothers restore order. But will return.
I am reminded of the partnership of the son and daughter of Alfred the Great. The relationship of Edward the Elder and Aethelflaed of Mercia was probably much more friendly than The Last Kingdom makes it.[C] Indeed, Bernard Cornwall admits he is probably unfair to Aethelflaed’s husband, so as to give a larger role to Uhtred.
In Middle-Earth, Aragorn and Gandalf find a sapling that has grown from a discarded seen of the dead White Tree – which remains dead, unlike the film. It replaces the withered tree, which however is laid to rest with honours equivalent to an important human.
And finally they are joined by the High Elves: Elrond and his children, and also Galadriel and Celeborn. But not Bilbo, who is presumably too weak for such a journey
Elrond has brought the Sceptre of Annuminas, a silver rod that was originally the symbol of office of the Lords of Andunie in Numenor.[D] That was later the symbol of the Kings of Arnor, and Elrond after safeguarding gives it to Aragorn.
Being now King of both Arnor and Gondor, he has met the seemingly impossibly conditions and can wed Arwen:
“Aragorn the King Elessar wedded Arwen Undomiel in the City of the Kings upon the day of Midsummer, and the tale of their long waiting and labours was come to fulfilment.”
It seems so neat that one has to remind oneself that Arwen was a fairly late addition to the tale.
[A] Properly Éowyn , but I do not use accents or other diacritical marks. In the past, I have all too often seen computer software turn them into something meaningless.
As to why this flaw exists, see https://gwydionmadawc.com/030-human-dynamics/ascii-an-unhappy-legacy-for-computers/