It is not so much the wound that Faramir received in battle that brings him close to death. Aragorn reaches the heart of the matter when he says to Imrahil, “Weariness, grief for his father’s mood, a wound, and over all the Black Breath”. All these things have finally overcome the valiant Faramir. All his life he has resisted the creeping shadow both in the rise of Mordor beyond the borders of Gondor and within the hearts of his own people and now, at last, his hope is gone.
It is not by Athelas alone that Aragorn heals Faramir. Tolkien does not enter into any explanation of the process but simply describes what Aragorn does.
“Now Aragorn knelt beside Faramir, and held a hand upon his brow. And those who watched him felt that some great struggle was going on. For Aragorn’s face grew grey with weariness; and ever and anon he called the name of Faramir, but each time more faintly to their hearing, as if Aragorn himself was removed from them, and walked in some dark vale, calling for one who is lost.”
What Tolkien describes here is some form of the coinherence about which the Inklings used to speak and an idea which was introduced to them by Charles Williams. Williams believed that Christians could voluntarily bear the suffering or burden of another and so aid their healing. Aragorn’s apparent journey away from himself and his profound weariness as he makes this journey seems to suggest that this is what is happening. For those who would like to explore this idea further I would warmly recommend the work of Sørina Higgins on Charles Williams which you can explore by going to https://theoddestinkling.wordpress.com and clicking on coinherence in the tags on the right hand side of the page.
It may be that Aragorn is able to call Faramir back from his journey towards death by this means but the healing is made complete when Bergil arrives with athelas. Aragorn crushes two leaves and casts them into a bowl of water and life is restored to both the healer and the one who is near to death.
“The fragrance that came to each was like a memory of dewy mornings of unshadowed sun in some land of which the fair world in Spring is itself but a fleeting memory.”
As you read the account of the healings in this beautiful chapter you will note that the fragrance of athelas is somehow different for each person that is healed. It is a beautiful expression of the unique relationship between the one who is hurt, the means of their healing and the healer. Surely in Faramir’s case we catch a glimpse, just for a moment, of his deepest yearning. When Faramir explained to Frodo the meaning of the ceremony that he and his men observed before eating in Henneth Anûn he spoke of his longing for the restoring of Gondor and also for something deeper even than that longing. He spoke of “that which is beyond Elvenhome and will ever be”. https://stephencwinter.com/2015/09/08/faramir-remembers-that-which-is-beyond-elvenhome-and-will-ever-be/
Faramir has long pondered that which Númenor and even Valinor can only point to. He is one who cannot stay at the surface of things and so passes through his experience as son of the Steward of Gondor through the history of his people and unto their origins in Númenor. And on arriving there and pondering both its glory and its fall under the shadow he goes deeper yet until he comes to Valinor which is forever closed to them. He will know that it is at the surface of Valinor the deathless land that the corrupted kings of Númenor stayed and so desired to possess it and the gift of immortality and so he passes deeper yet to what lies beyond Elvenhome. This is what he and all in the Houses of Healing glimpse just for a moment. It is a glimpse into the most secret place within his soul, into his most true self, even into the deepest reality of all and so he is called back from the shadows into light and life and into service of the king for whose return he has long waited.
9 thoughts on “The King and The Healing of Faramir”
I like this interpretation of what Aragorn was doing. I never quite understood it.
Many thanks for letting me know. I appreciate it. Tolkien had his suspicions about Williams but he seems to have warmed to this idea.
It just struck me, reading this again, that the Black Breath must, by definition, be in some way supernatural (ie. it is not a physical injury). The healing Aragorn (and the sons of Elrond) engage in here appears to be of this sort – they are not functioning as physicians or surgeons, but more like spiritual warriors or exorcists. Similarly, Aragorn sings over the Witch-King’s knife on Weathertop, and Tom Bombadil wakes the Hobbits on the barrow-downs with these lines:
‘Wake now my merry tads! Wake and hear me calling!
Warm now be heart and limb! The cold stone is fallen;
Dark door is standing wide; dead hand is broken.
Night under Night is flown, and the Gate is open!’
And all that, together with the name itself (“the Black Breath”) reminds me of Jesus breathing on his disciples, telling them to receive the Holy Spirit. It seems like Aragorn (and Elrond, Bombadil etc.) had received too.
David, it is really good to hear from you again. I hope that things are going well.
Thank you so much for your comment. I am sure that you are right when you speak of the Black Breath as being supernatural or spiritual. Certainly Aragorn makes a distinction between it and the wound that Faramir received from the Southron dart. My own conviction is that there is a “more than” quality about much in LOTR. Galadriel is amused by Sam’s desire to see Elvish Magic. She does not make the distinction between the ordinary and the magical or supernatural that many tend to do.
I love your cross references to Aragorn singing over the Witch King’s blade and Tom Bombadil’s song before the door of the barrow and I had forgotten the one about Aragorn singing. Thank you! Thinking about them will be a rich experience. The songs in The Fellowship of the Ring are of great importance and as a young reader of the story I used to skip over them. Not any more!
I like the idea of Aragorn’s healing as a kind of coinherence, and the point about the different fragrances is excellent. Thank you, Stephen.
Many thanks for letting me know. Can I also thank you for putting a link to my work on your Blogspot site. I have tried to leave a comment there but I have found it difficult to do so. I try to use my WordPress ID and it doesn’t seem to work. Just to say that I really like your work and would like to be able to talk with you about it. Here’s hoping for a better connection!
That’s a fascinating insight about what Faramir saw for a moment. I had not considered that before and it makes perfect sense. He also was one who longed for the king to return, as opposed to his father and brother. So two dreams come true then – a glimpse of a land forever lost but still beloved and then to wake and to see, the dream of the king made flesh before him, and allegiance and love given straightaway. Love him!
Namarie, God bless, Anne Marie 🙂
Thank you so much for commenting on this. What struck me as I read the beautiful description of the fragrance of athelas as it touched Faramir was that he is a true Númenorian even as is Aragorn but that even Númenor is only a pointer to a deeper reality. I think here too of “True Narnia” in “The Last Battle”.
And, as you say, true lovers of the deepest reality do not spend their lives in dreams, however beautiful. They give their hearts and lives to what lies before them. Faramir gave his heart dutifully to the Gondor he so bravely and nobly served under his father’s rule. Now he gives his heart joyfully to the king that he has so long desired to see. As you say, we love him.
God bless you too!
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