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Old 04-10-2021, 05:40 PM   #1
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The Man Who Bit a Fell-Beast

Somewhat inspired by Soriman's thread, I have taken an oath to myself to post something, somewhere on the 'Downs daily. Yesterday it was Crazy Captions. Tomorrow it is... who knows?

Lacking any threads to reply to, I find the real world to be largely full of only one great story--but this is not such a bad inspiration, because there are pestilences--indeed, plagues--in Middle-earth, and I have a tiny bit more appreciation for the Great Plague of the Third Age's seventeenth century, which depeopled great swathes of the West. Perhaps if the Dúnedain had the epidemiologists we do, things might have gone differently.

The glances at Covid-19 are something of a tongue-in-cheek comparison, since that can be a somewhat incendiary topic (though, in the spirit of upping my post-frequency, some flames might be productive...), but it does make me wonder, in the absence of there being any definitive evidence, if this great plague was the work of Sauron or merely something he took advantage of. It's far enough into the Third Age that he was certainly active, but Sauron doesn't have to be the source of all evils.

If engineered by Sauron, does this imply that the Maiar can manipulate micro-organisms? Or did Sauron just encourage the Orks to open a really nasty wet market in Nurnen until all the Easterlings started to drop like flies?
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Old 04-10-2021, 05:56 PM   #2
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This really is a great topic, and something I've considered before.

If I recall correctly, the plague came "out of the East", so I think the intimation leads to Sauron being the originator.
If that's the case, he was obviously targeting Men with it, knowing that Gondor was guarding Mordor, and Elves wouldn't be affected anyway.
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Old 04-11-2021, 08:08 AM   #3
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Oh good topic that is open to a bunch of wild guessing and speculation.

I'm not sure if this is directly related, but from Inzil's thread there was discussion about the plague Melkor sent and then the one in the Third Age.

Melkor is totally the type of villain that would send a plague to his enemies, but also wouldn't care how it would effect his own designs. As we know Tolkien refers to him as a nihilist and he wouldn't care if the "Evil Breath" killed his own. But was Sauron?

Well, he wasn't a nihilist, but what I do like about him (as a villain in a book) is he thinks and acts as an immortal. Too many fantasy authors create immortal villains but don't necessarily act like one, Sauron does. He's quite patient, as in Numenor and then when he returns in the Third Age.

I believe the date given is circa 1100 that an evil power inhabited Dol Guldur. Sauron spends thousands of years weakening resistance to reach his end goal. He acts like an immortal villain, patient and plays the long game. So, while I don't think Sauron liked being wasteful with resources (like Melkor was) if he did send the plague that also effected his own troops it could be in his calculations that's an acceptable loss for his long-term designs, if his goal at the time was to get Gondor out of Mordor, as well as depopulate Eriador.
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Old 04-11-2021, 03:26 PM   #4
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I never read is as an evil conjured up by Sauron. I think the reason for this is fairly simple. 1) Tolkien never states that it is created by Sauron (or anyone for that matter) and 2) It seems to be a one off thing in the third age.

Continuing from the second point, if you developed chemical warfare (or improved on it, as Melkor appears to be the creator), and it had the desired effect. Why on middle-earth would you limit your self to one go? Surely you could perfect it, or make it even more precise in targeting exactly the creatures you want to rid your self off.
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Old 04-12-2021, 02:32 AM   #5
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Not to ascribe all ills to the actions of dark powers, but I'm becoming convinced that this ill can be ascribed to... you get it. ^_~

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1) Tolkien never states that it is created by Sauron (or anyone for that matter)
He comes within half an inch of doing so, though!

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Originally Posted by Appendix A
Soon after a deadly plague came with dark winds out of the East. The King and all his children died, and great numbers of the people of Gondor, especially those that lived in Osgiliath. Then for weariness and fewness of men the watch on the borders of Mordor ceased and the fortresses that guarded the passes were unmanned.

Later it was noted that these things happened even as the Shadow grew deep in Greenwood, and many evil things reappeared, signs of the arising of Sauron. It is true that the enemies of Gondor also suffered, or they might have overwhelmed it in its weakness; but Sauron could wait, and it may well be that the opening of Mordor was what he chiefly desired.
Tolkien is not, by and large, an unreliable narrator, so when he says in a published book that 'everyone thought X', I'm inclined to accept that X is something he wants to tell us is true. But! Also, that line about how the plague came 'with dark winds' out of the East. That's not a natural phenomenon - it reminds me too much of the Shadow over Minas Tirith, or of the Black Breath.

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2) It seems to be a one off thing in the third age.

Continuing from the second point, if you developed chemical warfare (or improved on it, as Melkor appears to be the creator), and it had the desired effect. Why on middle-earth would you limit your self to one go? Surely you could perfect it, or make it even more precise in targeting exactly the creatures you want to rid your self off.
Side-effects and means of deployment. Middle-earth functions on natural rules, so it follows that to spread a genuine plague (not a magical curse like the Black Breath) Sauron would need to use natural means. He can create it magico-technologically, but to spread it he needs a vector. That tells me two things:

1) The plague began in the east, devastating the people of Rhun and knocking out Sauron's own army. That's fine if, as Boro says, you're happy to wait a few hundred years to take advantage!

What's less fine is if someone takes notice of your armies' weakness and decides to attack you. Nobody knew Sauron was out there at the time of the Plague, but once the Wise started to realise... well, he'd been attacked by an unexpected alliance who should have still been reeling from catastrophe before, he wasn't going to give them another opportunity.

2) Even if he'd wanted to, though - how? Plagues are carried by animals, humans included. The Great Plague came at a time when Rhun, Rhovanion, and Gondor all lived side by side, allowing for easy airborne transmission, or movement of rats in shipments, or what have you. After the plague, though, Rhovanion was essentially gone! There was no even slightly friendly contact between Sauron's domain and the West - meaning there was no way for a New Plague to cross between them.

If we assume that Sauron had to start it by letting it loose in his own population and having it spread naturally, using it after Rhovanion's depopulation would be a wild gamble. Nine times out of ten, it would just run through the folk of Rhun and then burn out before reaching anyone he actually wanted dead. Sauron's pretty dumb, but even he didn't want that.

~

On a different note, COVID definitely helps to paint in the details of how people in Gondor would have reacted (details Tolkien knew first-hand from the Spanish Flu). You'd have seen everything from people refusing any contact even with the rest of their household, to people insisting there was no plague and that it was just a bad cold even as they died of it. There'd be cities which locked down instantly when they heard about it (and watched their economies crash), and others which mocked them for their skittishness until their own people began to die off wholesale. Government response would range from ineffective and slapdash, to heavy-handed oppression.

In fact... it's plausible to paint a picture of King Telemnar in Osgiliath, insisting to one and all that Everything Is Fine (it's just the Rhovanion lot making a fuss over nothing), while his nephew Tarondor, steward of Minas Anor, locks down the fortress and refuses to let anyone in or out. Fast forward only a few months, and Telemnar's family is dead, Tarondor is king - and in order to keep his new realm under control, he calls back the soldiers from the gates of Mordor to patrol the streets of his remaining cities and prevent the people protesting his harsh measures.

Yeah, lots and lots of details we can paint in.

(Meanwhile in Arthedain: "Your majesty, the last of the people of Cardolan have succumbed to the plague!" "Oh! I didn't realise there was anyone left there anyway. ... does that mean it's mine now?")

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Old 04-12-2021, 08:44 AM   #6
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1) The plague began in the east, devastating the people of Rhun and knocking out Sauron's own army. That's fine if, as Boro says, you're happy to wait a few hundred years to take advantage!
You know I've been trying to think if Sauron did engineer the plague, with the intention of getting Gondor to withdraw their presence in Mordor, why would he start in Rhun, among the Men who later would swell his army size? Why not begin it in Gondor and Eriador, the populations he really wanted to effect? There are a few reasons I can think of...

1. Sauron didn't want to be outed at this early stage in his designs yet. Appendix B notes that in circa 1100 the Istari and Eldar believed the power that came to Dol Guldur was a Nazgul. TA 1636 the plague spreads through Gondor and if Sauron did engineer it, he still would be laying low and not wanted his enemies to know he's returned. Targeting Gondor first may have revealed Sauron was behind it before he wanted to be outed. Which leads to the 2nd reason...

2. Starting it in Rhun, would cement the growing hostilities between Rhun and Gondor, which would make them enemies for centuries. I can see Gondor blaming Rhun for where the plague originated (seeing how people have reacted to Covid-19 and thinking about Huey's post, the Gondorians of Telemnar's time could have been squawking "Rhunavirus-36!")

Gondor recently fought the kinstrife, so from Sauron's perspective there were already enemies from the South that would be ready to oppose Gondor. In his long-term designs, "let me start a plague in Rhun to spark hostilities and ensure that Rhun and Gondor aren't allies when I'm finally ready to start my war a thousand years later."
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Old 04-12-2021, 09:03 AM   #7
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Sauron didn't want to be outed at this early stage in his designs yet. Appendix B notes that in circa 1100 the Istari and Eldar believed the power that came to Dol Guldur was a Nazgul. TA 1636 the plague spreads through Gondor and if Sauron did engineer it, he still would be laying low and not wanted his enemies to know he's returned. Targeting Gondor first may have revealed Sauron was behind it before he wanted to be outed.
Somewhere in the books, there's a reference to Mordor originally being merely Sauron's westernmost stronghold, outside his original realms "in the East".
If that's the case, he would have returned to that area in exile, as it were. Therefore, releasing the plague from the direction of Rhûn was unavoidable. Gondor at that point believed Sauron had perished at the end of the Second Age, at any rate.
Obviously, he would have known that the Men under his sway were susceptible also, but I doubt he would have been much troubled by that. He knew open war with the West was a long time away, and he had plenty of time to rebuild an army.
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Old 04-12-2021, 01:49 PM   #8
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A thought that has occurred to me on the "why didn't Sauron use plague again?" front--apart from the obviously double-edged swords points already mentioned--is a bit tangential.

Do we know when the Black Breath first started?

A quick visit to Tolkien Gateway and the Encyclopedia of Arda reveal that the articles on both are brief. Wracking my brains... I can't think of any instances of the Black Breath prior to the period around The Lord of the Rings. Now, it's probably a stretch to suggest that the Black Breath is a viral pathogen, given that it certainly seems to be more of a supernatural malady than a psysiological illness, but what if it didn't come about until sometime later in the Third Age?

I don't think it can be NEW as of the War of the Ring, since Aragorn knows how to treat it and my impression of "The Houses of Healing" is that its treatment with athelas--i.e. not just the Hands of the King--is something that Aragorn thinks a learned herbmaster ought to once have known.

So... if it's:
  1. Post-the Great Plague
  2. Associated with the Nazgûl
  3. Far enough back that it's old lore
  4. And better remembered in the North than Gondor

...then I think it might have been rolled out during Angmar's war with and destruction of Arnor.

This is entirely speculative, of course, but it does strike me as plausible that IF Sauron had a hand in the Great Plague that he MIGHT THEN have developed the Black Breath. Could he have looked out over the devastation of the Great Plague and (keying a little off Hui's imagery of an internally-divided Gondor) as well as the devastation of his own human realms and thought "well, that's a lot of carnage on my side... but I really like the internal division and fear this wrought on Gondor. I wonder if I could bottle that..."

The obvious place, then, to roll out "the Plague 2.0: the Supernatural Edition" is in Angmar. The Witch-king is his chief servant able to be a proxy in something supernatural and the war with Arnor achieves one of his major goals in the long game. Turns out, a limited, supernatural and directed plague that doesn't rebound on your own forces doesn't work as widely as a germ-driven plague--without a Nazgûl around, there's no transmission. Perhaps it plays a role in the fall of Fornost, but although it is part of the Nazgûl's dread effect thereafter, it's mostly a dead until unless Sauron can figure out how to "aerosolise" it.

He actually figures this out with the War of the Ring: the foremost purpose of the Wingéd Nazgûl seems, to me, to be able to spread the shadow of dread--i.e. the Black Breath--over Gondor's entire army. The benefit of providing an anti-Eagle strikeforce might have been an inspiration--and certainly helps defeat the "why didn't they take the Eagles?" arguemtn--and Sauron does make use of them as messengers, but the biggest martial use of them is clearly spreading dread at the siege of Minas Tirith.

Wild mass speculating... but not crazy, right?
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Old 04-12-2021, 02:31 PM   #9
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Was the Steward, Boromir inflicted with the Black Breath? I recall the Appendices mentioning he suffered after a battle with the Witch-King and died before his time, shrunken/in pain? *goes to check*

Ahh..it's listed as a "Morgul-wound"

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Boromir was a great captain, and even the Witch-King feared him. He was noble and fair of face, a man strong in body and in will, but he received a Morgul-wound in that war which shortened his days, and he became shrunken with pain and died twelve years after his father.~Appendix A: The Stewards
Perhaps the Morgul-wound and Black Breath are similar in their effects, but a different method of transferal? Do you read "Morgul-wound" as Boromir was stabbed with a Morgul-blade or that it was just a wound caused by sorcery? Because it does seem different from Frodo's wound, in that it took 14 years for Boromir to succumb to the wound.
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Old 04-12-2021, 03:19 PM   #10
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He comes within half an inch of doing so, though!
Yup you are right, my memory fails me. Odd as I have just gone through the appendix a few months ago.
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Old 04-12-2021, 03:48 PM   #11
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Now, it's probably a stretch to suggest that the Black Breath is a viral pathogen, given that it certainly seems to be more of a supernatural malady than a psysiological illness, but what if it didn't come about until sometime later in the Third Age?
The correctile dysfunction has flared up, and I want to say that while I do not think the Black Breath is a form of infectious pathogen, technically those symptoms could be caused by one. After all, there are also very physical "symptoms" of coma and death. If we're talking about viruses, then viral encephalopathy is on the table. There are parasitic infections like Sleeping Sickness. And prion diseases, which don't give these exact symptoms but are more like infectious rapid dementia, but are another form of "infecting" the brain. Can't think of a bacterial infection that would make you go to sleep and die without also giving prominent other symptoms, but it's not impossible.

Honestly though, I think that the Black Breath is indeed an illness of the will, putting it more in the realm of the psychological. And I thought Aragorn equally was able to rescue the victims not through a specific taught skill, but through his own willpower and its interaction with those around him. I think Faramir's passage in the Houses of Healing is what most supports that interpretation. Perhaps is was a passed down knowledge that a person who is able to feel another's soul or what have you with his own would be able to interact with it directly, but credit goes to Aragorn for being that man rather than just learning a forgotten skill.
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Old 04-12-2021, 04:10 PM   #12
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Honestly though, I think that the Black Breath is indeed an illness of the will, putting it more in the realm of the psychological. And I thought Aragorn equally was able to rescue the victims not through a specific taught skill, but through his own willpower and its interaction with those around him. I think Faramir's passage in the Houses of Healing is what most supports that interpretation. Perhaps is was a passed down knowledge that a person who is able to feel another's soul or what have you with his own would be able to interact with it directly, but credit goes to Aragorn for being that man rather than just learning a forgotten skill.
Aragorn also had a kinship, very far removed, with the Master Healer himself, Elrond. I'm sure that was quite a bit of help.
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Old 04-12-2021, 04:27 PM   #13
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The correctile dysfunction has flared up, and I want to say that while I do not think the Black Breath is a form of infectious pathogen, technically those symptoms could be caused by one. After all, there are also very physical "symptoms" of coma and death. If we're talking about viruses, then viral encephalopathy is on the table. There are parasitic infections like Sleeping Sickness. And prion diseases, which don't give these exact symptoms but are more like infectious rapid dementia, but are another form of "infecting" the brain. Can't think of a bacterial infection that would make you go to sleep and die without also giving prominent other symptoms, but it's not impossible.
I will absolutely defer to those who know quite a bit more than me on matters of their expertise, and I think that you're basically providing evidence for my "the Black Breath is a supernatural weapon patterned on a biological one" (by Sauron, I mean--though that exact statement applies to Tolkien too...).

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Honestly though, I think that the Black Breath is indeed an illness of the will, putting it more in the realm of the psychological. And I thought Aragorn equally was able to rescue the victims not through a specific taught skill, but through his own willpower and its interaction with those around him. I think Faramir's passage in the Houses of Healing is what most supports that interpretation. Perhaps is was a passed down knowledge that a person who is able to feel another's soul or what have you with his own would be able to interact with it directly, but credit goes to Aragorn for being that man rather than just learning a forgotten skill.
Yeah, the extent to which Aragorn brings healing knowledge that could have been known by someone else (I'm looking at you, loremaster) or also something that is more ontological is quite debateable. Tolkien very clearly has him, as the returning King, bringing something that no one else could bring and it's telling that Gandalf treats him as Faramir, Éowyn, and Merry's only hope. Nonetheless, I don't think I'm too far astray in thinking that there's SOME skill involved that could have alleviated things and that this lore was lost--the comments about Ioreth and old wives are especially directed this way.

A mixture of both the supernatural (the angelic blood of Lúthien) and the natural (lore) is very Catholic, perhaps even to the level of "consciously so in the revision," a case of grace building on nature. But it also fits that the Black Breath, which is clearly supernatural and natural (in the sense that it produces physiological symptoms, if not that it is caused by germs).
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Old 04-12-2021, 04:50 PM   #14
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Hmm..Aragorn believes that Merry was a victim of the Black Breath (in Bree) and yet seems to have escaped serious harm.

I agree that it seems to be a spiritual or psychological ill. As Merry was awoken from a disturbing dream, but I don't think suffered any other hurts from the Black Breath. Faramir's severe injuries come from multiple sources:

Quote:
"Weariness, grief for his father's mood, a wound, and over all the Black Breath," said Aragorn.
...
"Walk no more in the shadows, but awake!" said Aragorn~The Houses of Healing
It's similar Theoden's words after being healed from Grima's crooked counsel: "Dark have been my dreams of late." Theoden's ailment was spiritual as well, words have meaning, and Grima's crooked counsel made him appear weak and sickly.

Perhaps, on its own, the Black Breath is not deadly? Merry is a resilient hobbit, who had his first brush with "sorcery" and he for the most part escaped harm; it gave him a bad dream. Faramir before riding out to war was troubled by Denethor's mood and as Aragorn remarks: "he had come close under the Shadow before ever he rode to battle.."

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Old 04-12-2021, 07:15 PM   #15
Morsul the Dark
Ghost Prince of Cardolan
 
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Join Date: May 2004
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Apparently I last logged in December 2019. Fascinating to come back on an active day.

To Boro’s point of patience, Sauron was also a trickster and manipulative. Certainly able to convince the people that a plague was overblown or not so dangerous. If we’re to pull on Covid a certain former president seems equivalent here.

To the Black Breath I would say it’s definitely of the mind and soul a sort of dismay that actually affects your physiology. Consider it like a concentrated use of their trait of general fear and malice that the nazgul project out.
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