The story of the Downfall of Numenor was one that Tolkien believed to be as essential to the understanding of Lord of the Rings as the Silmarillion stories of the First Age. This foundation, which he wished to have published all at the same time, would give the reader a greater appreciation for the ending of the story – especially the bits about Aragorn.
At least, that’s basically the way it’s often explained. That’s how I wanted to explain it myself. My hope was to continue on with Tolkien’s 1951 letter to publisher Milton Waldman in which he gives a long synopsis of the Silmarillion and Lord of the Rings three years before it was actually published.
Not liking to read too far ahead (after all, I’m doing this project to discover things as I go), I simply assumed that Tolkien would delve into the importance of Aragorn being of noble birth, descended from the line of Numenorean kings. I was then going to share all of the instances where Tolkien talks about Numenor and Aragorn prior to the 1954 publication of Fellowship of the Ring.
The only problem was that Aragorn was only mentioned once over that time frame and his roll in the story was greatly downplayed. To me, that’s even more interesting, so let’s take a gander.
After describing the Silmarillion and the Second Age to Mr. Waldman, Tolkien gave a synopsis of Lord of the Rings (which wasn’t printed in The Letters of JRR Tolkien). In it, he left quite a bit out, including the Ents.
He then brought up love stories, which were “wholly absent from The Hobbit.” Even what he called “the highest love-story, that of Aragorn and Arwen Elrond’s daughter is only alluded to as a known thing.” In 1951, he still wasn’t sure how he was going to handle many of the things that wound up in Appendix A. But what he said next really made me smile.
“I think the simple ‘rustic’ love of Sam and his Rosie (nowhere elaborated) is absolutely essential to the study of his (the chief hero’s) character, and to the theme of the relation of ordinary life (breathing, eating, working, begetting) and quests, sacrifice, causes, and the ‘longing for Elves’, and sheer beauty.”
Let’s take a look at this. The “chief hero” is, I believe, Frodo. That just makes sense (Tolkien was flying fast and free with pronouns). Frodo’s quest wasn’t just to destroy the Ring and thus take out Sauron, it was to save the way of ordinary life. It was, when it comes down to it, to preserve a place where people like Sam and Rosie can fall in love, marry and have children.
It wasn’t for Aragorn to become king and marry Arwen (something he couldn’t do unless he was king, according to Elrond). A king, even in the most wretched of times, can marry pretty well anyone he wants. But if Frodo had failed and Sauron would have taken over, ordinary, non-kings like Sam and Rosie didn’t stand a chance.
With that very much in mind, I thought it would be fun to turn away from Aragorn and look at Sam. Though Sam came into the tale only a little while before Aragorn, Tolkien wrote much more in his letters about the hobbit. From what’s published of his correspondence,
Sam came into the story in the “Third Phase” of writing when Strider was still named Trotter and was actually not Aragorn at all. He wasn’t even a man, but a hobbit. It wasn’t until later, perhaps a matter of months – toward the end of 1939 – that he wrote: ‘Trotter’s true name – as a Man: Aragorn.” He was to be a “man of Elrond’s race descendant of the ancient men of the North, and one of Elrond’s household.” Aragorn didn’t become a Numenorean descendent until around August of 1940.
Anyway, the character of Samwise Gamgee is about a year older than Aaragorn son of Arathorn. It’s strange that though Aragorn was invented in 1940, Tolkien didn’t talk about him in his (published) letters until 1951. He “first” wrote about Sam in 1944, in a letter to his son Christopher. It’s clear that he had discussed the character with him prior to that.
That same year (1944) in another letter to Christopher, Tolkien wrote: “Certainly Sam is the most closely drawn character, the successor to Bilbo of the first book, the genuine hobbit. Frodo is not so interesting, because he has to be highminded, and has (as it were) a vocation. The book will probably end up with Sam. Frodo will naturally become too ennobled and rarefied by the achievement of the great Quest and will pass West with all the great figures; but Sam will settle down to the Shire and gardens and inns.”
The Beren and Luthien story, upon which Aragorn and Arwen’s story was based, was clearly dear to Tolkien. And despite that, he saw Sam and Rosie as being an “absolutely essential” part of understanding Frodo’s journey and the story itself.
A Few Notes
Don’t worry, I’ll get back to Aragorn, I promise.
In 1944, Tolkien had not yet come upon the ending of Lord of the Rings, which explains why he doesn’t seem to know what it is (though he clearly has something in mind).
About the Photo
I suppose it Samwise Gamgee could drive, this would be his sweet ride.
- Day 104
- Miles today: 5
- Miles thus far: 515
- 405 miles to Lothlórien
- 1,263 miles to Mt. Doom
Today’s stopping place: Book II, Chapter 3. Still walking along the western foothills of the Misty Mountains. Fourth night out from Rivendell. (map)