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The One Ring Forums: Tolkien Topics: Reading Room:
heathen kings


Sep 20 2017, 6:06pm

Post #1 of 5 (1518 views)
heathen kings Can't Post

I did a search on "heathen" in this site's archives, got lots of incidental comments, but couldn't quite resolve my question.

So, Denethor's going to burn his (not-quite) dead son on a pyre, and hop on it himself. And he says, "We will burn like heathen kings before ever a ship sailed hither from the West."
A little later, Gandalf says, "Only the heathen kings, under the domination of the Dark Power" killed themselves.

1. "before ever a ship sailed hither from the West"? I assume that means, sailed here from Aman--i.e. before the elves came to Middle-earth--which would mean: before "men" were born... Or am I screwing something up here? Naturally, we should not expect accurate historiography from Denethor at that point, so maybe he was just wrong about this.

2. the deeper question is, who does this "heathen kings" refer to?



Sep 20 2017, 6:22pm

Post #2 of 5 (1493 views)
I think he is referring to the coming of the Numenoreans [In reply to] Can't Post

...there were other men in Middle Earth before they came...Easterlings, Southrons, Khand etc. Many of their kings were under the influence of Sauron and his dark arts. Or who knows, even renegade Blue Wizards may have gone native and tried to carve out their own Saruman like zones of control.

(This post was edited by Eruonen on Sep 20 2017, 6:23pm)


Sep 20 2017, 6:33pm

Post #3 of 5 (1495 views)
I agree it's not clear, but I think this is a reference to the Second Age, not the First [In reply to] Can't Post

If as you assume the "ship sailed hither from the West" refers to Elven ships, that mixes up the history we would read later in the Silmarillion. In the First Age or Elder Days, some Men who had been "under the domination of the Dark Power" are said to have fled to the West of Middle-earth, where they encountered the Elves who were there. Some of the Elves had never sailed West, much less back to the mortal lands (the Sindarin); and some of the Elves were Noldorin exiles, some of whom had in fact sailed back to Middle-earth in pursuit of Morgoth and the Silmarils. Denethor's words seem to have little to do with "heathen Kings" of mortal Men behaving badly pending the arrival of Feanor, when there were already many Elves who had begun to educate and civilize the tribes of Men and their Chieftains who had fled from Morgoth.

I think in context that Denethor is referring to the so-called Great Darkness that Middle-earth suffered in the Second Age, when the most Elven-friendly tribes of Men had been given the gift of the Isle of Numenor far out to sea, near to Elvenhome. Those who were left behind, as far as I know, came under the domination of Sauron - the second "Dark Power", of course - and their leaders were accounted Kings. Only after many centuries did the Men of Numenor sail back to Middle-earth, in a kind of "civilizing/ imperializing/ defending" policy to stop Sauron's expansion. I suggest those are the "ships sailing hither from the West" that Denethor refers to: Men of high civilization and faith in the Valar (i.e., not heathen), returning to try to stamp out the barbarism and heresies of Sauron's brand of Morgoth-worship among the Easterlings, Southrons, and other bad Men. One example that comes to mind is the Dead Men of Dunharrow and the Paths of the Dead in The Lord of the Rings: they had worshipped Sauron and so foreswore their oaths of loyalty to the Numenorean exile, Isildur.

Ironicallly, we learn in the "Akallabeth" (later book in the Silmarillion) that even Numenor had been corrupted by Sauron, and the Numenoreans had burned sacrificial victims alive in an evil cult that Sauron began. This supports the idea that Sauron had had the 'heathen kings' doing the same thing under his influence or rule back on the mainland, before Numenor defeated him.

squire online:
RR Discussions: The Valaquenta, A Shortcut to Mushrooms, and Of Herbs and Stewed Rabbit
Lights! Action! Discuss on the Movie board!: 'A Journey in the Dark'. and 'Designing The Two Towers'.
Archive: All the TORn Reading Room Book Discussions (including the 1st BotR Discussion!) and Footerama: "Tolkien would have LOVED it!"
Dr. Squire introduces the J.R.R. Tolkien Encyclopedia: A Reader's Diary

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Sep 21 2017, 11:26am

Post #4 of 5 (1441 views)
Yes I think... [In reply to] Can't Post

I think that by reverting to 'heathen' behaviour Denethor is rejecting his Numenorean project, tied up as it is with the lineage of Elendil (and so Elendil's heir, Aragorn). And Gandalf's gist is that this is beneath Denethor, who should stick to his task of being Steward, and await the right time to die.

Where's that old read-through discussion?
A wonderful list of links to previous chapters in the 2014-2016 LOTR read-through (and to previous read-throughs) is curated by our very own 'squire' here http://users.bestweb.net/...-SixthDiscussion.htm


Sep 22 2017, 11:27am

Post #5 of 5 (1359 views)
excellent [In reply to] Can't Post

Thanks very much. Very helpful answers. I'm an enthusiast, but there's no way I can match the knowledge base here!


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