I tried my best to talk about Aragorn and his relation to the Numenoreans in the last post, but I just ended up talking about Sam. So let’s talk about Aragorn.
When Frodo awoke from his mini-coma, Gandalf told him, among other things, that Strider was actually named Aragorn. He was a Ranger, and the Rangers were “the last remnant in the North of the great people, the Men of the West.”
I’ve written recently about how and why Numenor came to be, as well as how and why it ended. What Gandalf tells Frodo in this passage isn’t much at all – just that he was one of them.
The true meaning of all of this isn’t really given to us until the Return of the King, which was published in late 1955. Prior to that (and even after), readers had to either guess at the true nature of Aragorn or ask Tolkien himself.
In a draft of a September 1954 letter (Fellowship was published in August and Two Towers was published in November), Tolkien explains that Aragorn’s healing of Frodo “might be regarded as ‘magical’, or at least a blend of magic with pharmacy and ‘hypnotic’ processes. But it is (in theory) reported by hobbits who have very little notions of philosophy and science; while Aragorn is not a pure ‘Man’, but at long remove one of the ‘children of Luthien’.” This might not have been the most clear response he could have given, but at least he didn’t spoil the ending.
Which is what he did in a November 1954 draft. In this letter, he goes into quite a bit of detail about the Numenoreans. They were, he recounts, “the highest kind of Men,” “the kings of Men.” He writes a bit about their religion – they were “monotheists; but like the Jews (only more so) with only one physical centre of ‘worship’: the summit of the mountain Meneltarma ‘Pillar of Heaven’ – literally, for they did not conceive of the sky as a divine residence – the centre of Numenor; but it had no building and no temple, as all such things had evil associations.”
Anyway, he retells the story of Numenor, pretty much as how it was recounted here. In this telling, he goes into more detail about those who escaped and how they related to Aragorn.
“So ended Numenor-Atlantis and all its glory. But in a kind of Noachian situation the small party of the Faithful of Numenor, who had refused to take part in the rebellion (though many of them had been sacrificed in the Temple by the Sauronians) escaped in Nine Ships under the leadership of Elendil and his sons Isildur and Anarion, and established a kind of diminished memory of Numenor in Exile on the coasts of Middle-earth – inheriting the hatred of Sauron, the friendship of the Elves, the knowledge of the True God, and (less happily) the yearning for longevity, and the habit of embalming and the building of splendid tombs – their only ‘hallows’: or almost so. But the ‘hallow’ of God and the Mountain had perished, and there was no real substitute.”
Not too long after coming to Middle-earth, the idea of kings faded away, and with it the worship of Illuvatar. By the time of the War of the Ring, Illuvatar was basically forgotten. The only thing that sort of remained was “the refusal to worship any ‘creature’, and above all no ‘dark lord’ or satanic demon, Sauron, or any other, was almost as far as they got.”
The last place of any sort of worship, a “hallow,” as Tolkien called it, was on Mount Mindolluin near Minas Tirith, and it was “only approachable by the King.” It had, like most other things Numenorean, been completely forgotten by the people.
In this letter, Tolkien then explains: “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.” There, now you don’t have to read the third volume – which wouldn’t be published for another year.
And that is really all that I can pull from Tolkien’s letters about Aragorn of the Fellowship of the Ring. More is obviously revealed later, and even before the other volumes were published, Tolkien was excited for everyone to know the ending. I am too, but it’ll take some time to get there.
A Few Notes
- “Noachian” means “like Noah.” So not only was Numenor his telling of the Atlantis story, it was also something like the Noah story.
- Again, I can’t stress enough how essential and endearing The Letters of JRR Tolkien is to a greater understanding of Lord of the Rings.
About the Photo
Well, Numenoreans were pretty into chopping down trees. They were also taller than most men.
- Day 104
- Miles today: 5
- Miles thus far: 520 (67 from Rivendell)
- 400 miles to Lothlórien
- 1,258 miles to Mt. Doom
Today’s stopping place: Book II, Chapter 3. Encamped along the western foothills of the Misty Mountains. Fourth night out from Rivendell. (map)