par Gelydrihan

In the end, what can one keep in mind regarding the symbolic and mythographic representation of swords in LOTR ? Well, definitely, the first point concerns their relations with their bearers. Indeed, throughout the study, it appears that like their swords, the characters show two aspects. And this is true for all of them : Frodo has to save Middle-earth but also to resolve his Oedipus complex and to fight against the evil will of the Ring, Sam proves to be a mighty warrior and not only a gardener, Gandalf is a wise old man but also one of the most powerful beings in Middle-earth, Aragorn is a ranger but at the same time the heir of Gondor. Pippin and Merry use their swords so as to awake their hidden courage, Boromir is a mighty warrior but his fate is sadly linked to blades, and Éowyn transcends her status of woman and proves to be as brave and skilled as men in the art of fighting. As for Théoden, one observes that he recovers his lost strength through his sword, and regarding the Nazgûls, their blades are messengers of death, dangerous for their preys’ bodies and minds as well. The examples are numerous and what is to be reminded is the role played by their swords in their lives. Their swords have two edges, two sides, and so have the characters’ personalities. In a way, swords can be seen as a kind of twin for each character, but a twin in which it is able to read the secret desires and fears of their bearers. They provide the reader with an opportunity to see the characters in a different way, which leads ‘beyond’ the written word. For example, it is thanks to Frodo’s sword that the reader discovers the hidden face of the hero : he is ‘human’, he experiences desires, temptations (i.e. sexual ones) and as a result, acquires a deeper dimension. He is no more the ‘halfling’ who has to travel from ‘point a’ to ‘point b’ in order to destroy a golden ring. He becomes ‘alive’, if one may say so. As it has been said in the acknowledgments, “feelings […] become almost palpable” [1] and after the study of the mythographic and symbolic values attached to Sting, this takes a new meaning, i.e. the reader is now able to understand (and to share ?) Frodo’s deepest desires, fears and frustrations. This is also true for another character : Aragorn. At first sight, he displays a very noble image (even when he is depicted as being a ranger). But this image is blurred by the symbols linked to his blade. He is also ‘betrayed’ by his sword. He also have secret desires. In a word, he is not made of stone (this image appears frequently in LOTR) :

Frodo peering forward saw in the distance two great rocks approaching : like great pinnacles or pillars of stone they seemed. Tall and sheer and ominous they stood upon either side of the stream. A narrow gap appeared between them, and the River swept the boats towards it.
‘Behold the Argonath, the Pillars of the Kings !’ cried Aragorn. ‘We shall pass them soon. Keep the boats in line, and as far apart as you can ! Hold the middle of the stream !’
As Frodo was borne towards them the great pillars rose like towers to meet him. Giants they seemed to him, vast grey figures silent but threatening. Then he saw that they were indeed shaped and fashioned : the craft and power of old had wrought upon them, and still they preserved through the suns and rains of forgotten years the mighty likenesses in which they had been hewn. Upon great pedestals founded in the deep waters stood two great kings of stone : still with blurred eyes and crannied brows they frowned upon the North. The left hand of each was raised palm outwards in gesture of warning ; in each right hand there was an axe ; upon each head there was a crumbling helm and crown. Great power and majesty they still wore, the silent wardens of a long-vanished kingdom. Awe and fear fell upon Frodo, and he cowered down, shutting his eyes and not daring to look up as the boat drew near. Even Boromir bowed his head as the boats whirled by, frail and fleeting as little leaves, under the enduring shadow of the sentinels of Númenor. So they passed into the dark chasm of the Gates. [2]

And what about Éowyn ? Her relation to swords also reveals her humanity. She comes from a kingly lineage, but she is under the dominion of desires and of her feminine condition. She is not as cold as steel, and she must accept the emotions she feels, in particular regarding men.

In addition, what is said in the introduction proves to be true : “[…] the symbolic and mythographic aspects and values of swords are far more richer and deeply rooted in legends, myths and cultures of our world”. [3] This study provides the reader with an interesting trip around the world : England, Egypt, Italy, Germany, Japan, China, France, India, Northern Europe, Middle-East… But also it deals with quite a lot of religions : Christianity, Buddhism, Paganism, Islam… This panorama gives to the reader a fine representation of how swords do have a role to play, a story to tell, in a great number of places, myths and legends in the history of Mankind. So although Tolkien is a writer whose culture is endowed with European (and British more precisely) Christianity, swords in LOTR show that he finds his inspiration in cultures and religions of different countries, and in myths of numerous and various ethnic groups. LOTR is definitely not “‘Hypertrophic… A children’s book which has somehow got out of hand… A poverty of invention which is almost pathetic’” [4] nor “‘a combination of Wagner and Winnie-the-Pooh’”. [5] Of course, there is a majority of Nordic myths in LOTR, as far as swords are concerned, and this is normal as Tolkien was an expert concerning Northern Europe’s legends. But thanks to the study of swords, it appears that other sources are used. And this can bring the reader to the interesting idea that maybe, there exists a universal source for certain myths and symbols. Mircea Eliade’s works tend to prove it, with for example the symbolism of trees, present in numerous and various myths of different cultures (cf. Images et symboles). But this theory contains another disturbing question : if cultures, religions and beliefs of the world share a common basis, is it possible to ‘invent’ new myths ? As for writers such as Tolkien, are they creators, or skilled collectors owing boxes on their shelves with symbolic and mythographic items inside, that they can use whenever they want to ? As previously seen, this idea has been used many a time against Tolkien (cf. Edmund’s Wilson’s ‘A poverty of invention’), but one has to acknowledge that “if it’s really that bad, why do so very many people like it so enormously ?” [6] So one may state that it seems very difficult (not to say impossible) to write a novel and to be able to forget the cultural, philosophical and ideological grounds of one’s origins. As a result, this theory concerning the sterility of LOTR appears as ridiculous. Roland Barthes’ works (cf. Peter Pericles Trifonas’ Barthes and the Empire of Signs) [7] may be useful to have a clearer view regarding this issue. Indeed, Barthes demonstrates that this is certainly impossible to leave aside one’s culture (as well as one’s beliefs…) when being in contact with other cultures. This is definitely normal to find a preponderance of Nordic myths regarding swords in LOTR (due to Tolkien’s cultural origins) and also numerous links to Christianity (due to Tolkien’s religious education). Most likely, Tolkien has not ‘invented’ myths, but he definitely has ‘re-invented’ myths. He has created his own universe, giving to its peoples a past, cultures, wars, love-stories, betrayals, fears, desires…and swords. Indeed, swords are undeniably attached to Tolkien’s work, they are part of his huge fantasy, i.e. Middle-earth. And although the study of swords in LOTR reaches its end (at least, one has tried to go as far as possible), the Tolkien fan, or simply the curious reader, can prolong the journey in turning to other Tolkien’s works in which famous swords are again present. In The Silmarillion, for example, one can find the strange sword ‘Anglachel’, which may certainly provide a very interesting basis for a new approach of J.R.R. Tolkien’s world :

Then Beleg chose Anglachel ; and that was a sword of great worth, and it was so named because it was made of iron that fell from heaven as a blazing star ; it would cleave all earth-delved iron. One other sword only in Middle-Earth was like to it. That sword does not enter into this tale, though it was made of the same ore by the same smith ; and that smith was Eöl the Dark Elf, who took Aredhel Turgon’s sister to wife. He gave Anglachel to Thingol as fee, which he begrudged, for leave to dwell in Nan Elmoth ; but its mate Anguirel he kept, until it was stolen from him by Maeglin, his son.
But as Thingol turned the hilt of Anglachel towards Beleg, Melian looked at the blade ; and she said : ‘There is malice in this sword. The dark heart of the smith still dwells in it. It will not love the hand it serves ; neither will it abide with you long’. [8]

To conclude, one can say that the study of swords in LOTR show how a simple item (a weapon) can be linked to a large number of myths, symbols and legends. This paper has tried to be as exhaustive as possible regarding swords and their meanings, but there are certainly other myths which can be linked to them. And what about other themes present in LOTR ? It has been quite difficult to avoid confusion and the temptation to deal with other ideas and themes contained in this gigantic cosmological work. And it is also very interesting to observe how swords have a relation with other items which are at first sight different from them : nature (trees, water, stars…), feelings (wrath, pity…) and even names (Sting, Glamdring…) :

Away high in the east swung Remmirath, the Netted Stars, and slowly above the mists red Borgil rose, glowing like a jewel of fire. Then by some shift of airs all the mist was drawn away like a veil, and there leaned up, as he climbed over the rim of the world, the Swordsman of the Sky, Menelvagor with his shining belt. [9]

So, swords in LOTR do appear as characters. They are almost as important as living characters. They are ‘inhabitants’ of Middle-earth, and ancient ones : Sting was there before Frodo, Glamdring was also in Middle-earth before Gandalf and so was Narsil…As Sam would say, “no mistake”, swords are a fundamental item and part of LOTR. J.R.R. Tolkien will have the last word and prove that although swords are deadly, they can also be wonderfully described, and as a result become seducing :

In panoply of ancient kings,In chained rings he armoured him ;

His shining shield was scored with runes

To ward all wounds and harm from him ;

His bow was made of dragon-horn,

His arrows shorn of ebony,

Of silver was his habergeon,

His scabbard of chalcedony ;

His sword of steel was valiant,

Of adamant his helmet tall,

An eagle-plume upon his crest,

upon his breast an emerald. [10]

[1] Cf. 1.

[2] FR 441.

[3] Cf. 6.

[4] Edmund Wilson (1895-1972) American literary critic and writer, in : Jenny Turner, op.cit. 15.

[5] According to the poet John Heath-Stubbs, in : Jenny Turner, op.cit. 15.

[6] Jenny Turner, op.cit. 15.

[7] Peter Pericles Trifonas, Barthes and the Empire of Signs (Cambridge : Icon Books Ltd., 2001).

[8] J.R.R. Tolkien, The Silmarillion (Second Edition) (USA : Houghton Mifflin Company, 2001) 201-202.

[9] FR 91.

[10] FR 262.

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