What Did Aragorn Really Know about the Nazgul?

Camera: Polaroid Automatic 100  Film: Fuji FP-100C (reclaimed negative)

Camera: Polaroid Automatic 100
Film: Fuji FP-100C (reclaimed negative)

It’s cheerless, but our heroes continue on through a montage of grim landscapes and rough terrain.

Thoughts on the Passage – Book I, Chapter 12 (p199, 50th Anniv. Ed.)
As our hobbits and Strider make their way east, I can’t help but wonder about Aragorn’s history with the Nazgul. What did he know? When did he learn it? And most importantly, prior to Weathertop, had he ever encountered them?

By the time our hobbits were on Weathertop, it must have been clear to them that Strider knew more about the so-called Black Riders, the Nazgul, than he was letting on. From their first mention in Bree, he tells them “They will return. And more are coming. There are others. I know their number. I know these Riders.”

But how much did Aragorn actually know? Little by little, it’s revealed to us that Strider knows they work for the Enemy, and they have something called “the Black Breath.” More is learned on Weathertop when the Riders gather below. While the Nazgul cannot see in the traditional sense, Strider explains that their horses can.

“‘And at all times they smell the blood of living things, desiring and hating it. Senses too, there are other than sight or smell. We can feel their presence – it troubled our hearts, as soon as we came here, and before we saw them; they feel ours more keenly. Also, he added, and his voice sank to a whisper,’the Rings draws them.'”

This last bit indicates that Aragorn had either intimate encounters with them or learned a great deal. Either way, it would be safe to say that whatever Gandalf and Elrond know about the Nazgul has been shared with Aragorn.

The same year he met Gandalf, in 2956, Aragorn took off on journeys into the East and South, “exploring the purposes of Sauron and all his movements.” Though Elrond had explained his ancestry to him three years before, he fought as an unknown warrior for Gondor and Rohan.

By this time, Sauron had re-established himself in Mordor, which had been prepared for him by the Nazgul. In an entry for the year 2980, when Aragorn returned to Rivendell to once again meet Arwen (still forty years before our story begins – though also forty years after the events in The Hobbit), Tolkien states, almost in passing, that he was returning “from perils on the borders of Mordor.”

When Bilbo vanished from The Shire in 3001, Gandalf began to suspect that his magic ring was maybe something a bit more weighty. While he researched its nature, he dispatched Aragorn to search for Gollum, which began in earnest in 3009. The entry in a late draft of the Tale of Years, submitted for publication, states: “Aragorn goes to the confines of Mordor.”

This is a far different thing from “the borders of Mordor,” which he had visited thirty years prior. This seems to have been dropped from the published version, which was heavily edited for space. Incidentally, the published version states that Gollum was captured by Sauron somewhere from 3009 to 3017.

In Unfinished Tales, Tolkien wrote that Gollum was captured in 3017, a year before our story takes place. This is a later writing (penned after Lord of the Rings, so it’s fairly plausible that Tolkien had decided upon this).

Sauron could get little from Gollum, but didn’t kill him because he suspected that he would track down this “Shire” and “Baggins” thing. Gollum headed immediately into the Dead Marshes, and Sauron’s minions refused to follow. Unable to find out any information about Gollum’s location, he finally decided to dispatch the Ringwraiths.

Sauron kept the Nazgul close to him, not wishing to use them at all “until he knew precisely where the Ring was.” Tolkien explains in Unfinished Tales that he was hesitant to use them until he was fully ready for open war (which he was not). “For such reasons Sauron long hesitates, since he did not desire that his chief enemies should become aware of his servants’ errand.”

So Sauron’s quest went from finding Gollum to finding the Ring. He figured that Gollum and “Baggins” were the only two individuals who knew about the Ring. But while Sauron and the Nazgul focused upon the ring, Aragon was capturing Gollum near the Dead Marshes (February 1, 3017).

“He will never love me, I fear; for he bit me, and I was not gentle.”

Aragorn brought Gollum to Mirkwood and handed him over the Thrandril. There, Gandalf questioned him and learned for near certain that this was indeed the One Ring. Also, he learned that Sauron knew about “Baggins” and the “Shire.”

But it was also in Mirkwood that the Enemy learned what had happened to Gollum. The Witch-king was headquartered in Dol Guldur, in the southern parts of Mirkwood, and news that Aragorn had entered it reached him, though this took some time. Tolkien writes in Unfinished Tales that Sauron didn’t learn of this until April. A month later, he learned that Gandalf was involved.

Here, the story is a little muddled. Sauron, it appears, did not set loose the Nazgul until this time – early summer of 3017, after learning about Gandalf and Gollum. In the middle of June, the Nazgul attacked Thranduil (and Gondor) with the intent of recapturing or killing Gollum. But Gollum escaped. In the autumn of that same year, rumor had it that Gollum was in Moria, but that was the last anyone heard about him. By August of 3018 “All track of Gollum is lost.”

It must also be remembered (according to “The Council of Elrond” chapter) that while Aragorn is on Weathertop – and until he comes to Rivendell – he believes Gollum to still be in the keeping of the Elves.

This must mean that Aragorn had left Mirkwood before June of 3017 – before the Nazgul attacked. His whereabouts from spring of 3017 until summer of 3018 are incredibly vague. From all I can tell, he doesn’t turn up again until late September in Bree.

In that month, he was with the Rangers, watching the roads into the Shire, and it can probably be assumed that’s what he was doing the whole time. When the Nazgul crossed Sarn Ford in the southern end of the Shire, the Rangers ultimately lost the engagement, but some fled north (toward Bree) to tell Aragorn the news.

This brings us nearly to the present day without Aragorn ever fighting the Nazgul himself. This would mean that on Weathertop, when Frodo caught “a glimpse of Strider leaping out of the darkness with a flaming brand of wood in either hand,” it was the first time Aragorn had ever been face to face with the Ringwraiths.

A Few Notes:

  • Is this right? Had Aragorn really never encountered the Nazgul before?
  • Was his jump at the Witch-king a suicidal attempt to save Frodo?
  • I know I’m missing some information on the whereabouts of Aragorn, especially through 3017-3018. If anyone has any other info, toss it my way.
  • Tomorrow, I’m going to try to do something less heady. We’ll see.
  • Mostly, I used Unfinished Tales and The Peoples of Middle-Earth. Also, LotR, of course.

About the Photo
I had compared Trotter, the wooden-shoed hobbit, to a cowboy, but with Aragorn’s backstory, I think he should hold that title.


  • Day 58
  • Miles today: 5
  • Miles thus far: 281
  • 179 miles to Rivendell
  • 1,498 miles to Mt. Doom

Today’s stopping place: Still south of the East Road, southeast of Weathertop (map)

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17 thoughts on “What Did Aragorn Really Know about the Nazgul?

  1. Ooh, interesting! I had never thought that this was Strider’s first confrontation with the Nazgul. No reason. Just took him at his word that he knew “these Riders.” Maybe he saw them when he was hunting for Gollum down there? He might have gone by Minas Morgul.

    • He probably did, the guy got around. It really shocked me to learn that there’s really no way that he ran into the Nazgul before Weathertop. The narrator of “Hunt for the Ring” even strongly suggests that is Aragorn had been at Sarn Ford, it may not have ended so well. Especially how he’s all “I’ma sacrifice my life for you. “

  2. I never considered this… But I love it. I love that he’d dive at the witch king with no concern of his survival, but just to save Frodo. Especially given that he knew full well of how dangerous they were. It makes Aragorn even more awesome.

    • It really does. I have no idea why, but I’ve been sort of down on Aragorn in my head. Maybe it’s the Gamgee in me. But something just didn’t sit right with me and Aragorn. I’m going to try to figure this out as I go. I do know that his complete trust of Galadriel bugs me (maybe that’s the Boromir in me).

      But I *am* really trying to like the guy.

      • I did wonder why you threatened every waiter in Seattle with a “I’ll have you, Longshanks!” It makes sense now! I mean some of those waiters weren’t even that tall…

            • You’re all fools! Aragorn is the best, and the Numenoreans / Dunadain are the whole point of the Legendarium!

              >>whine whine, pout pout<<

              Actually, when I first read these as a kid, I was pretty bored until Strider showed up; and after I got the Aragorn reveal, found the books absolutely riveting. To this day, its really, really hard for me to get thru all of the Frodo & Sam sans Strider / Aragorn stuff (I find it all often dull and frequently irritating, especially Sam; sorry guys), while the Aragorn storyline continues to blow my mind. And I say that knowing full well that the Frodo / Sam stuff is just as vital to my mystical escha-cosomological understandings of the Legendarium as the Aragorn stuff.

              Anyway, to the matter at hand: I think its vital to understand, in regards to Aragorn "knowing" the Nazgul, that Tolkien understands various forms of knowing beyond physical contact. First, there is the fact that Aragorn, via his tutelage under Elrond (who I insist must be understood as Aragorn's Sensei in the archetypal sense), would know every possible bit of information about the Nazgul that Elrond has. So, in every possible intellectual sense, Aragorn "knows" them.

              Second, Aragorn is special; he is the Numenorean King, which, for Tolkien, is a spiritual category roughly equivalent to Messiah (in the Jewish sense of Annointed One, understood as a spiritually chivalric king*)–demonstrated via Aragorn's role in all of this–with all of the inherent mystical possibility this implies (remember that until the prophecy of Samuel, the Kings were the Prophets; hence a Messiah, in the Jewish sense, would be a spiritually enlightened king). With this + Aragorn's tutelage under Gandalf (who I insist must be understood as Aragorn's Spiritual Master in the archetypal sense), he would posses an accurate intuitive understanding of the Nazgul. Hence, he "knows" them in this more arcane way, as well.

              With all of this in mind, particularly the second point, I would argue that for Tolkien knowing thru physical contact is a form of knowing of at best secondary, if not tertiary, importance. Therefore, Aragorn did know the Nazgul well prior to their meeting at Weathertop. Of great tactical importance, tho, is that they did not know him.

              *And as I'd argue that Tolkien is deeply Neoplatonic in his understandings of Catholicism, a "spiritually enlightened king" would be a good Neoplatonic definition of Plato's Philosopher King. Many a Christian, Sufi, and Neoplatonized Jewish mystic have made excellent cases for understanding "Messiah" and "Philosopher King" as describing the same reality.

  3. Hey Jeff!

    You’ll not find a whole bunch of love for Aragorn from me, though I’m sure he’s a swell guy.

    I agree, Tolkien didn’t mean that Aragorn knew the Nazgul from fighting with them or from hanging out at the Prancing Pony with ol’ Khamul. I wrote: “Either way, it would be safe to say that whatever Gandalf and Elrond know about the Nazgul has been shared with Aragorn.” Which you echoed.

    As for the Numenorean kings being “messiahs” in the traditional sense. Yeah, I guess so, though the word “messiah” has such a different connotation in modern times (meaning the last 1,700 years or so), that the use of it here is hardly worth the effort to explain it.

    And you know me. I’m not at all a fan of comparing Gandalf to a guru, or Elrond to a sensei. Gandalf’s relationship to Aragorn can really only be understood within the text. The same goes for Elrond. So in some ways, the relationships might be “like” that between a guru and student, etc, they’re simply not that. And even though he once in a while used words like “angels” to describe the Valar, he seems to have done so with less and less frequency as he got older (and more into his legendarium).

    It always surprises me how down on the Numenoreans Tolkien was in his writings, especially letters. Once in awhile, he’ll talk about their spiritual side, but will usually go right back to talking about their downfall. He revelled in “the long defeat.” (letter 131 – it’s wonderfully amazing)

    It’s also sort of fascinating that after finishing the Lord of the Rings, Tolkien tried to do a sequel taking place 100 years after the fall of Mordor (called The New Shadow). He stopped it as it “proved both sinister and depressing.” Aragorn had little control or power and the sub-kings because “like Denethor or worse.” In the end, he concluded (in letter 256) it was “not worth doing.” But with that in mind, he didn’t seem to have the idea that Aragorn’s return meant all that much (though who knows how The New Shadow would have ended – even Tolkien didn’t know that.

    Elsewhere (letter 244), he does go into detail about Aragorn’s reign, but mentions nothing at all about anything spiritual. It simply wasn’t his focus. In fact, the Numenorean thing, though central to LotR, was his least-developed idea. He tried now and then, but always returned to the First Age or the Elves in the Second Age.

    So yes, in the end, I agree (as I wrote) that Tolkien’s concept of “knowing” the Nazguls went deeper than having met them before – or even seen them before. And yeah, it was fairly fortunate they had had no real idea who he was. I even jump into this in a subsequent post.

  4. Certainly on board for the ride here. And I mostly wanted to echo you and go into a little more depth.

    I suspect that what blocked Tolkien’s ability to develop the Numenoreans, as well as The New Shadow, was the pessimism at the back of his (mystical but still orthodox) Catholicism, which is radically different from the incredibly nuanced, but largely optimistic view of humanity actually presented in the text. Which is to say that Tolkien didn’t think much of Aragorn, perhaps, and was critical of the Numenoreans / Edain, but the texts themselves are a different story (and a potent one, when considering that Tolkien well understood that the story was getting away from him, as such, as he was discovering it). To wit, humanity at its best (symbolized by the Numenoreans and Numenorean-esque folks [like Theoden, Eowyn, the Hobbits, et al.]) can overcome their fuck-ups and beat-back the dark, and that it is this dynmatism (the tension between fucking up and being able to overcome one’s fuck-ups) that enables transcendence (symbolized by Aragorn’s ascension to the throne and marriage to Arwyn, as well as the passing of much of the Fellowship into the West). Its too bad he didn’t stick with The New Shadow as I suspect that it would have become both much darker and much more optimistic as he removed himself and his presuppositions from process in time (as, I believe, he did in the process of LotR).

    While I understand your reluctance to stray from the text, I worry about it. That is, I’m not sure that any kind of mythological or fantasy tale can be understood from the “text itself” as such tales are intrinsically archetypal. Which means, among other things, that the archetypal roles characters play are the actual meanings of the characters themselves; that the characters don’t exist save as “roles” (hence, none of the characters are really developed in any meaningful way in LotR except, perhaps, Frodo, Sam, and Smeagol; tho, as I’ve argued before, the three of them can really only be understood as three aspects of a single character). Hence, without understanding Elrond as a “sensei”, Gandalf as a “guru”, Aragorn as a “messiah”, Frodo as a “knight” (and a “grail knight” in particular), etc.–and intuitively and intellectually attempting to grapple with these meanings–I’m not sure any understanding of LotR can occur.

    But perhaps that is my “role” in this ride : )

    • Ride on!

      I’ve read bits of The New Shadow, and really, it’s not all that interesting. There’s something there, but just not enough to make it compelling.

      Ohh don’t worry too much about me. There’s more than enough in the text to keep us busy. Simply, we cannot understand Gandalf as a guru because he wasn’t one. His relationship to Aragorn was in some ways similar to that of a guru/disciple, but there are many differences as well.

      We can use things like gurus, seneis, and messiahs as markers to help us understand what these characters and their relationships were like and how they compare and contrast with those markers, but to say that they must or can only be understood by those methods is implausible.

      We can draw similarities, but since Elrond is not actually a sensei, that definition can’t be applied fully to him any more than “cranky father-in-law” might be.

  5. Hmm…

    How is Elrond not actually a sensei? I mean, other than the lack of Tolkien using the word, I think the evidence is there that he was Aragorn’s teacher in all things relating to martial arts, chivalry, kingship, etc. Hence, in relationship to Aragorn, he would take on the archetypal role of “sensei” (also, being a “cranky father-in-law” is often a part of being a sensei, archetypically speaking).

    Or take Gandalf, for instance: the text tells us that Faramir is a “wizards pupil”, and since we never see Faramir do any magic, etc. we have to assume that being a “wizards pupil” is something other than being a student of magic. Now, given the differences between Faramir and the person who calls him a “wizard’s pupil” (Denethor, who uses the title very pejoratively), we can safely assume that some of those differences might give us a sense of what Faramir learned from Gandalf. And I would argue that those differences are of a profoundly spiritual nature, given Faramir (particularly his wisdom-rooted interactions with Frodo), and given Tolkien’s proclamation that LotR is about the sole right of God to divine honor.

    From there we can easily extrapolate on the relationships between Gandalf and Biblo, Frodo (indeed, all of the hobbits), and Aragorn, at the very least. The Hobbit is a very deep “hero’s journey” tale culminating in Bilbo’s incredibly wise rejection of the Battle of Five Armies (which I argue is still the best of all band names) on very spiritual grounds. LotR, aside from the incredible story of the Ring, culminates in the Scouring of the Shire, which Gandalf very directly tells the hobbits they’d been “trained for”.

    We have to remember that Gandalf’s overt role in the Third Age was the organizing of the Free People’s in their resistance to Sauron, which is in large part a resistance to Sauron (and, by extension, Morgoth) making a claim to divine honor. This means that the resistance to Sauron was a primarily spiritual matter, over which the physical battles were a physical necessity, and that Gandalf was the spiritual master of the Age in Middle Earth (specifically sent by Manwe), with his particular relationships being specific instances of his teaching.

    Which leads us to Aragorn, who is left in charge by Gandalf who crowns him (anoints him) himself, making Aragorn the spiritual master of the Fourth Age. This initiatory line indicates that Aragorn was Gandalf’s student. (I think the similarities between Aragorn and Faramir, let alone Gandalf and Aragorn’s interactions, actually drive this home.)

    However, I certainly grant that the overt textual relationship between Gandalf and the other characters does not always (or even often) resemble the relationships of Teacher / Student relationships given in overt spiritual literature (making the word “guru” with its specific definitions at least as problematic as “messiah”). I think there could be any number of reasons for this (including Tolkien never having had a spiritual teacher), but I think the fact that Gandalf is the guide thruout all of the Third Age materials, and that it culminates in the successful war against Sauron, the Souring of the Shire, Aragorn’s coronation and marriage, and the passing of Frodo, Sam, Legolas, and Gimli (as well as Gandalf, Elrond, Galadriel, and ultimately Cirdan and Celeborn) into the West, demonstrates aptly the argument.

    As to whether or not these texts can only be understood by archetypal markers, I suppose I’ll have to stand my ground on this (at least for now) because I’m not sure I can believe that the Legendarium is anything but mythological literature telling the “story of the soul”, as such. However, I think the importance of using words like “messiah” (which is, granted, very loaded in these parts) is less about coming to the text with an idea of what a “messiah” is and then deciding if Aragorn matches what we know, and more about accepting that Aragorn is the messiah of this tale, and then learning what this story tells us about what a “messiah” is. Which is to say, I do not believe that archetypes are static categories with fixed definitions, but dynamic tendencies that become embodied in different ways depending on the needs and contexts (In this definition I believe Jung, Cambell, Corbin, and Plotinus would back me up).

    I love talking about this stuff!! Where’s Ryan?

    • Elrond isn’t actually a sensei because he is not actually a sensei, at least no more than a King would be a sensei to a Prince (in a generic monarchy sort of way) or the way an instructor at West Point would be to an up and coming lieutenant. I’m sure he’d teach things that a sensei would teach, just as I’m certain that there’s things a sensei would teach that Elrond wouldn’t. These are loaded words that actually mean stuff. I just don’t understand the need to go outside of Tolkien to define the relationship. We can say that things are “like” other things, of course. But saying things are other things is an impossibility.

      I wasn’t saying that Gandalf wasn’t the spiritual leader. I was saying he wasn’t guru in the same way that Elrond wasn’t a sensei. But that’s always a semantic argument, which is probably pointless in the end. Interesting note that doesn’t support me: the Sanskrit term “guru” literally means “heavy.” So it would maybe be better to say “Gandalf was like a guru to Aragorn, in a certain way.”

      The closest I would come to agreeing that Gandalf initiated Aragorn into a line would be to say that the Kings of Numenor had gone astray/vanished and a messenger of God was sent to make things right and Aragorn was destined to be the King. What I would actually say is this: “The Kings of Numenor had gone astray/vanished. Gandalf was sent by Manwe, head of the Valar, to aid in the defeat of Sauron, who had led the Kings astray. Aragorn had been chosen by chance/doom/lineage to close the line of the Halfelven, reuniting the lines of Elrond and Elros, and to unite Middle-earth.”

      For me, I’d rather see what Tolkien has to tell us about who Aragorn is. I don’t really have a great desire to fit him into something I already know (like a messiah – or even King, for that matter). Because in the end, while Tolkien was influenced by different traditions, and while the basic ideas of good/gray/evil run true throughout most thinking and literature, I’d rather take the story and legedarium as a separate tale.

      It’s probably a personal preference thing.

  6. “I’d rather see what Tolkien has to tell us about who Aragorn is. I don’t really have a great desire to fit him into something I already know (like a messiah – or even King, for that matter). Because in the end, while Tolkien was influenced by different traditions, and while the basic ideas of good/gray/evil run true throughout most thinking and literature, I’d rather take the story and legedarium as a separate tale.”

    We don’t actually disagree much, as I agree with much of this summation. But two things:

    1) I agree some of this is mostly semantic, as I’m using “sensei”, etc. not as word with definitions, but as a title who’s definition gives, at best, merely an indication as to what an intrinsically complex archetype is. Hence, “sensei”, which in western usage means a teacher of the (spiritual, eastern, Japanese) martial arts, in an archetpyal sense becomes something more like “someone who gives practical lessons in the martial arts–broadly understood–as a means of grounding someone in the traditions of chivalry as a precursor to spiritual growth” (as this is what “senseis” generally do in fantasy martial arts literature), but its a hell of a lot easier to just write “sensei”. So, I see Elrond as demonstrating what a “sensei” is, and why a “sensei”, as such, is necessarily important within the context of the events in LotR.

    Granted, Elrond is probably the worst example of all here, as his role (particularly his relationship with Aragorn) is only loosely defined in the extra Legendarium literature. But applying this rubric to understanding what I mean by the archetypes of “guru”, “messiah”, and “grail knight”–and how they are embodied in Gandalf, Aragorn, and Frodo-Sam-Smeagol respectively–might give us some space here to understand what these characters mean. Which brings us to

    2) I’m not sure its possible to really take the Legendarium as a separate tale. This might be the source of our differences here, but I’ll try to make my case. I don’t think any story (particularly any mythology) exists in a vacuum. From a psychological and historical standpoint, Tolkien was defined by his own context: a devout mystic catholic with clear Neoplatonic biases; an expert in the languages, histories, and mythologies of Old Europe; a WW1 vet; a devoted husband and father; a member of the Inklings; etc. When we then include the various contexts of each of these items, as well as the contexts of each person he interacted with in each of these circumstances, we begin to see an intense and intricate web that interlaces a great deal of the world (albiet, mostly passively) into Tolkien’s psychology. However, there is simply no way to account for all of this, so we have to stick with the text, thru which (my assumption is) this is all expressed anyway. But, importantly, it still only exists within these contexts, which must be acknowledged, and this means that the text (like all texts) is always pointing away from itself.

    But what is it pointing to? Naturally, we could do as many have done and try to figure out what it all means within the context of the physical world, Tolkien’s psychology, etc. Which, as I’ve noted, is important, its not satisfying 1) because its impossibly complex, and 2) because the text itself is alluding to something higher (this Tolkien himself believed, as well). For now, I’m choosing to call something of this “higher” note “archetypes”.

    Now, by archetypes, I do not mean the tropes of fantasy literature. I mean what Plato and the Neoplatonists called the “Forms”, what the Abrahamic and Zoroastrian traditions call Archangels and Angels, and etc., as all of the various traditions have some kind of (different in the details, but remarkably similar in the essence) understandings of these beings. Tolkien called them the Valar and the Maiar, and gave us a rather profound cosmology for how they manifested and shaped the world. In this, I believe, Tolkien told us how the archetypes are intimately involved with the Legendarium.

    Perhaps it would be better to try to understand the various characters-as-archetypes as the archetypes Tolkien provides us with? I could get into that, certainly. We would then say that Gandalf, for instance, while not Manwe per se, is fulfilling Manwe’s archetypal role and thus is manifesting Manwe in an importantly real sense. However, this still begs the question: what is Manwe’s role? What does it mean? To which we would answer that Manwe, as the leader of the Valar and Maiar, is the very being of the spiritual teacher.

    Hmm, so maybe the first step in bringing us together in this is actually trying to tease out the archetypes of the characters using Tolkien’s given system of archetypes? From there we can get a better sense of the meaning of each character, so that when we relate them to terms from our world (like sensei or messiah or guru) it is in a more textually grounded sense.

    So, would you agree that, archetypically, we have Manwe –> Gandalf –> Aragorn? Would that also give us Morgoth –> Sauron –> Saruman –> Wormtongue?

    Hmmm…

    • 1) Sweep the leg, Aragorn!
      It’s easier to just say “sensei,” sure, but I’m not sure it’s easy to understand Elron in that way. There’s too many specifics going on for that.

      2) Oh my no! I wasn’t even beginning to suggest that we look at any of Tolkien’s work in a vacuum. It’s fun and interesting to note, for example, how the Turin story was a retelling of the Finnish Kullervo. It doesn’t really add much to our understanding of Turin, but it’s interesting, and can lead us to discovering new old lit.

      What I meant was just that. We can and should notice and acknowledge the inspiration, but we can’t let those inspirations alter our study of Tolkien’s works in and of themselves.

      “Perhaps it would be better to try to understand the various characters-as-archetypes as the archetypes Tolkien provides us with? I could get into that, certainly.”

      Exactly! And I completely fucking agree with what you’re saying here, though I’d stop short of “spritual teacher,” but that’s just me.

      Hmm.. Morgoth to Sauron for sure, but I don’t think then to Sarumon. And even Sarumon to Wormtongue is problematic as he was also working for Sauron (well, Witch-king). But then Sarumon was also fucking with the Witch-king, soo…. Now I’m understanding why Tolkien stuck with family trees. 🙂

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