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Old 07-28-2005, 12:59 PM   #1
Dűrbelethwen
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Burning Bodies like the heathen kings

There was a line like that in the movie that Denethor said that he would burn his and Faramir's bodies like the heathen kings. I could not find an exact line like that in the Return of the King except for a line where Gandalf says something to the fact that the heathen kings chose when their children died like what Denethor was about to do to Faramir. Is the first reference relating to the Romans who burned the bodies of their dead and others. Or if Professor Tolkien was not thinking that way but closer to the passage that I found in the book relating to how some of the Judean kings (after they fell away from Yahweh) sacrificed their children to idols, sometimes burning them alive. As what happened during the reign of King Ahaz.
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Old 07-28-2005, 03:53 PM   #2
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As this is also in the books, I wonder if it might possibly stem from Tolkien's own beliefs on burial? Cremation in the modern sense is still resisted by many in the UK who hold strong Christian, particularly Catholic faith; historically at the end of the Victorian era it was seen as very peculiar indeed to opt for a cremation. I think this has something to do with the body needing to be 'intact' at the Day of Judgement.

Cremation was also at one time commonly used among the pre-Christian culture in the British Isles, particularly in the centuries leading up to the Roman occupation. Maybe Tolkien was making reference to cremation being of an older culture in light of this. Perhaps...though I've never read anything to confirm Tolkien's own views on the 'proper' conduct for a burial rite...
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Old 07-28-2005, 06:50 PM   #3
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What sort of Middle-earth heathen kings does Denethor speak of? Did these people cremate all their dead, or just the kings? What sort of pre-religion did these people follow? How is it different from Gondorian beliefs in Denethor's time? What were his religious beliefs? This has really got me thinking about the history of Gondor before the Numenoreans.

It is an interesting topic. I don't know if the Romans cremated their dead or not, but I do know that sacrifices to these heathen gods and idols were usually burned. In the Odyssey, sacrifices to the gods, usually consisting of the thighbones and tongues of animals, are burned over fires. Perhaps the smoke rising to the heavens gave thanks to the gods?
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Old 07-29-2005, 01:59 AM   #4
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It is Gandalf in the chapter, The Pyre of Denethor from The Return of the King who speaks of heathen kings. And he defines them as being those under the Domination of the Dark Lord who slew themselves in pride and despair along with their kin.

---

After Gandalf has rescued Faramir from the mound where he was to burn, Denethor pleads that his son not be taken from him. Gandalf directs Denethor to let his son be taken to the houses of Healing while he (Denethor) should go out to the battle that rages in his city.

‘He will not wake again,’ said Denethor. ‘Battle is vain. Why should we wish to live longer? Why should we not go to death side by side?’

‘Authority is not given to you, Steward of Gondor, to order the hour of your death,’ answered Gandalf, ‘And only the heathen kings, under the domination of the Dark Power, did thus, slaying themselves in pride and despair, murdering their kin to ease their own death.’
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Old 07-29-2005, 02:31 AM   #5
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It is an historical fact, that in some cultures, the wife and even servents were burned along with the deceased, and in real terms, it wasnt that long ago.
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Old 07-29-2005, 07:36 AM   #6
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Denethor does speak a similar line in the book:

Quote:
"Why? Why do the fools fly?" said Denethor. "Better to burn sooner than late, for burn we must. Go back to your bonfire! And I? I will go now to my pyre. To my pyre! No tomb for Denethor and Faramir. No tomb! No long slow sleep of death embalmed. We will burn like heathen kings before ever a ship sailed hither from the West. The West has failed. Go back and burn!"
The Return of the King: "The Siege of Gondor," p. 98-99
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Old 07-29-2005, 09:28 AM   #7
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I think that Denethor, obviously over the edge, decided to spite the West and all that for which it stood. He was like a child throwing a tantrum, doing what he must have believed would really hurt his 'parents.'

That obviously was a cry for help.

And he wanted to torch Faramir too, as stated in the text, to ease his own guilt. I could see 'staying on' in a bad or hopeless situation if it were to, in some way, benefit my children or at least extend our time together.

Did Denethor also want to save himself the shame of losing Minas Tirith, and was he afraid that not only would his city fall but he personally would be captured and tortured along with his son? His 'reasoning' might have figured that it would be better to burn than to suffer to the torments of the Dark Lord. And a burned body may put him out of reach forever of Sauron - who knows what Sauron could do with one that was only mostly dead?

In the end he gets his wish, though in the PJ version I'm not sure if it were the fire or the fall that ended his life.
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Old 07-29-2005, 12:12 PM   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by alatar
In the end he gets his wish, though in the PJ version I'm not sure if it were the fire or the fall that ended his life.
I reckon it was the fall - if he could run about three miles from the tombs to the precipice being on fire obviously didn't affect him that much...
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Old 07-29-2005, 12:30 PM   #9
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Davem has a good point there. Denethor did a real good impersonation of The Balrog, I wonder if he thought he could fly without wings also, oops maybe I shouldnt have said that
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Old 07-29-2005, 01:00 PM   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by davem
I reckon it was the fall - if he could run about three miles from the tombs to the precipice being on fire obviously didn't affect him that much...
Don't have my ROTK handy, but doesn't Denethor say somewhere in the text that he began wearing an asbestos undershirt day and night?
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Old 07-29-2005, 01:47 PM   #11
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Is that in case The King Returned and he got fired?
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Old 07-29-2005, 06:41 PM   #12
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Quote:
Originally Posted by alatar
. . . though in the PJ version I'm not sure if it were the fire or the fall that ended his life.
Neither. It was the sustained, uncontrollable laughter in the audience.
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Old 07-30-2005, 03:11 PM   #13
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Silmaril

trying not to be graphic but
rather the custom of men in third age to burn their deceased than chopin up eh?
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Old 07-31-2005, 02:27 PM   #14
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The Heathen kings are in referrence to the beginnings of men in the first age. When men came to be the only beings they were in contact with were the dark elves and minions of Morgoth. Times were tough and they were tormented by Morgoth, where they developed their fear of the "gift of death". Many humans became evil and aligned themselves with Morgoth, but not all.

In the Silmarillion many groups of humans flee over the mountain ranges dividing the east and west and encounter the Noldor and the grey elves. They enter into their service and ally themselves with them in the war against Morgoth, they become known as the Edain.

After the war of Wrath and the fall of Morgoth, these Edain are given Numenor and are then known as the Dunedain. During the reign of Numenor they develop the ability to keep the flesh from degrading after death and the dead are then entombed rather then burned. The armies of Numenor then returns to middle earth and conquer many of the Heathen Kingdoms of men which were the descendants of the men that did not become the Edain and are loyal to Sauron.

Their is not much else really said about the Heathen Kings except that the people of middle earth viewed the people of Numenor as godlike and lords of men. So what Denethor is referring to is the time before Numenor was at its apex and it seems implied that man burned their dead

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Old 08-01-2005, 09:11 AM   #15
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Just a thought: was burning the dead seen as a way to keep the body from becoming an undead tool or plaything of the enemy - wight, zombie, ghost, etc?
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Old 08-01-2005, 08:45 PM   #16
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Quote:
Originally Posted by alatar
Just a thought: was burning the dead seen as a way to keep the body from becoming an undead tool or plaything of the enemy - wight, zombie, ghost, etc?

Quote:
Originally Posted by piosenniel
It is Gandalf in the chapter, The Pyre of Denethor from The Return of the King who speaks of heathen kings. And he defines them as being those under the Domination of the Dark Lord who slew themselves in pride and despair along with their kin.
No, seeing how the 'enemy' was Sauron and they were under his dominion. In that instance, I would think that Sauron would see cremation as disloyal and a betrayal, if he so chooses to use the dead as a tool.
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Old 08-03-2005, 12:57 PM   #17
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Quote:
Originally Posted by alatar
Just a thought: was burning the dead seen as a way to keep the body from becoming an undead tool or plaything of the enemy - wight, zombie, ghost, etc?
That's quite possible, especially if they had any dealings with Elves and had picked up ideas from them which had developed into their own superstitions. There is a passage in Morgoth's Ring which describes how the 'houseless fea' could easily take over another person as it sought a body; I think the passage also says that Sauron had means of using a houseles fea in this way. I thought I had quoted this on another thread but I've just remembered that the post I wrote was swallowed by the 'net. I shall look it up though...
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Old 08-03-2005, 03:49 PM   #18
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I wonder if the Wild Men burned their dead, then.

And I wonder if it was just the heathen kings who burned, or if it was everyone in that culture (though presumably most people would burn after death...).
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Old 08-03-2005, 06:11 PM   #19
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Firefoot
I wonder if the Wild Men burned their dead, then.

And I wonder if it was just the heathen kings who burned, or if it was everyone in that culture (though presumably most people would burn after death...).
And all you need is some wood. Digging a grave takes time and effort. Burning the dead is surely more efficient for Wild Men out in the forests, where plenty of wood is to be found.

If Denethor had not said heathen kings, then I might've assumed that kings might have been buried, and possibly embalmed, like the Pharaohs of Egypt. Kings might've been given special treatment. But it seems otherwise . . .
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