Crafting of the Knives from the Barrow Downs

Discussion in '"The Lord of the Rings"' started by Valandil, Dec 29, 2018.

  1. Valandil

    Valandil High King at Annuminas

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    I've become interested in the making of weapons that could do harm to the Witch-King - like the four daggers (used by them as short swords) with which the Hobbits were armed by Tom Bombadil. How were the Dunedain able to make them? Was it done solely by someone from Cardolan, or was there collaboration with Arthedain? Or with Dwarves, or Elves? Or were they even made in Second Age Numenor? Were there others - full-size swords or axes? Or maybe it was most efficient to make more of the small weapons, with several key leaders to be armed with one, in case they had the opportunity for a killing stab or stroke. Somehow the nature of the Witch-King was likely known by the makers - in order to devise an effective weapon against him. I've always wondered if mithril was somehow involved (even in trace amounts) - obtained from Khazad-Dum.

    We're told in the appendices that this barrow was likely the stronghold of the last Prince of Cardolan, who fell there in the attack by Angmar and Rhudaur in 1409 of the Third Age. I suppose those daggers were there at that time, rather than brought there later.

    I don't think JRRT tells us very much more about them. So what do you suppose was their origin? What makes the most sense?

    (if this looks familiar, it was initially in my response on another thread - but I thought it might make an interesting thread of its own)
     
  2. Rebecca Fike

    Rebecca Fike New Member

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    This is a great initiative to start, well, I also like to build the same.
    But generally in the shooter video game I always used to activate weapons for the players.
     

  3. Merroe

    Merroe Active Member

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    I summarize herewith the references that I could find about your interesting question, Valandil. However, and to start with the conclusion first, you'll find no answers to your questions; you probably found all of this already yourself.

    Anyway here is my overview; hopefully, others can help more than me.

    Book 1 Ch 8

    For each of the hobbits he chose a dagger, long, leaf-shaped, and keen, of marvellous workmanship, damasked with serpent-forms in red and gold. They gleamed as he drew them from their black sheaths, wrought of some strange metal, light and strong, and set with many fiery stones. Whether by some virtue in these sheaths or because of the spell that lay on the mound, the blades seemed untouched by time, unrusted, sharp, glittering in the sun.

    ‘Old knives are long enough as swords for hobbit-people,’ he said. ‘Sharp blades are good to have, if Shire-folk go walking, east, south, or far away into dark and danger.’ Then he told them that these blades were forged many long years ago by Men of Westernesse: they were foes of the Dark Lord, but they were overcome by the evil king of Carn Dûm in the Land of Angmar.

    Book 3 Ch 1

    [Aragorn speaking] They were borne by the hobbits. Doubtless the Orcs despoiled them, but feared to keep the knives, knowing them for what they are: work of Westernesse, wound about with spells for the bane of Mordor.

    Book 5 Ch 6

    So passed the sword of the Barrow-downs, work of Westernesse. But glad would he have been to know its fate who wrought it slowly long ago in the North-kingdom when the Dúnedain were young, and chief among their foes was the dread realm of Angmar and its sorcerer king.

    HOME8 mentions an earlier version of the last sentence:

    Glad would he have been to know its fate who wrought it slowly long ago, for the sorcerer-king he knew and the dread realm of Angmar in the ancient North, hating all his deeds.

    LOTR Reader's Companion

    But above all the timid and terrified Bearer had resisted him [= the Witch-King on Weathertop], had dared to strike at him with an enchanted sword made by his own enemies long ago for his destruction. Narrowly it had missed him. How he had come by it – save in the Barrows of Cardolan.
     
  4. Squint-eyed Southerner

    Squint-eyed Southerner Skulking near Archet

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    I've been waiting for one of our more knowledgeable members, Galin or Alcuin, say, to provide answers (where are you guys?), but I guess I could take a preliminary,um,stab at it.

    (EDIT: Or Meroe! He beat me to it, while I was meandering on -- as soon as I gave up waiting! My quotes are now redundant, but I'm going to leave the rest of my post as it is. I'm not going to delete all that work! :mad:)

    This seems unlikely, as "The Battle of the Pelennor Fields" has:

    That would have to place its making some time after c. T.A. 1300.

    As to materials, it's certainly conceivable that mithril might have played a part. The description in "Fog on the Barrow-downs" indicates some unusual elements:

    We know that mithril remains "untarnished", though as so often, Tolkien is ambiguous about exactly which factor is at play here.

    Not only was he ambiguous, but in this case, he appears to have been ambivalent; not being near my library, I'm a bit hampered in looking for sources, but one important aspect of the making and purpose of the blades is the "magical" element. Of course, we know he worked to rationalize the opposition between "good" and "evil" magic, for instance in "On Fairy Stories" and notably in Letter 155, reproduced here:

    http://www.thetolkienforum.com/inde...ens-works-at-odds-with-mechanicalmagic.12958/

    Not quoted in that thread (at least from a quick skim) is the quizzical note Tolkien added in the margin:

    So it seems he never worked out exactly how the "spell" was contrived.

    In any event, I take it the designs on the blades were not mere decoration, but were bound up with the spell. That leads me to believe the materials, whatever they were, used in the "damasking" were in some way also "magical". Mithril certainly gives the impression of a "magical" substance in the legendarium, as do gems and stones.

    BTW, I'm taking the author's use of the word "damasked" to indicate damascening, the addition of decoration to steel by etching or engraving, rather than the pattern created by the forging of Damascus steel, which is something else entirely.

    Though not "entirely", perhaps: the wavy patterns produced could be described as "serpent-forms", and may have been so called in historic descriptions of which Tolkien was aware; even more aptly, the technique for making true Damascus steel was lost sometime in in the seventeenth century, and has never been recovered (despite modern attempts to reproduce it). This parallel with a "lost art" could well have contributed to his thinking on the subject.

    It's interesting to note that an early draft has Denethor saying, when examining Pippin's sword: "This is a seax of my people". It may be that Tolkien decided to change this to "blade" so as not to confuse the differentiation of the men of Gondor/Numenor from the Anglo-Saxon-modeled Rohirrim, seax being an Anglo-Saxon word, but more may have entered into it. The seax, though it really only meant "knife" to the Saxons, was of a distinct (though varied) shape: normally long, single-edged, with a drop point, as here:
    viking-decorative-seax-with-scabbard-olegg-the-mercenary-5.jpg
    As such, it was more a cutting/slashing weapon, than a stabbing/thrusting one. A blade carrying a spell would need to penetrate deeply into its target in order to fully deploy the power of the spell -- at least that is my impression. It would therefore need to be double-edged, like a dagger; hence the description of the Barrow-blades as "leaf-shaped".

    Further, although the seax pictured above is "damasked" with a design, and I have no doubt that the actual ancient blades were sometimes imbued with "spells", the blade itself is asymmetrical. I'm presuming a bit here, but my feeling is that the spell-craft of the Numenoreans was highly "symmetrical", for rhetorical reasons, and would therefore require "symmetrical" carriers. I'll leave it there for now, but will try to get back later to add something more about that idea.

    I hope this wasn't too far afield from what you were asking. Maybe someone better informed will come along!

    (EDIT again: And someone did! :))

    Slight addendum: I tried to edit in a picture of Damascus steel, but for some reason, when I hit "More Options" all I get is "This page isn't working", so I'm entering it down here, as an illustration of the difference:
    Watered_pattern_on_sword_blade1.Iran.JPG
     
    Last edited: Jan 2, 2019

  5. Valandil

    Valandil High King at Annuminas

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    Thanks guys - yes, all I looked up was when Bombadil passed around the blades - wanted to confirm their initial description as knives/daggers rather than short swords - and sure enough, "daggers". I did think that they HAD been made in one of the Northern Kingdoms of the Dunedain, and after the rise of Angmar, but didn't know anymore if that was just my impression, or backed up by what I had read - and didn't do the exhaustive search (thanks to those who did!). So nothing suggests involvement by Dwarves or Elves (though I agree that mithril is a possible ingredient), and the text seems to rule out their being older than the strife with Angmar. I guess the bits we know ares quite intriguing - because:

    A. We think of that time: 1300-1400 Third Age, as a period when the Dunedain have declined - and yet they made these weapons then, weapons which could kill the Witch-King.
    B. The mention of their being bound with "spells" is puzzling - because we don't think of the Dunedain as using magic - except for when they turned to "the black arts". So... just what kind of magic did they use? And of course, JRRT takes a different view of magic than others, and than we take into this culturally... a much more "natural" kind of magic, per se, to simplify. But just what did they do? Were there "magicians" among them, other than the Istari? (and were these more commonly the men susceptible to being tempted away to use the black arts? Or is that yet another thread?) Another possible use of Dunedain magic is Isildur "cursing" the Men of the White Mountains, when they did not stay true to their Oath... which may be viewed as the Oath itself at work, but I wonder if he had already obtained the Ring before making the curse, and if it worked part of the effect.

    To follow-up on that last - did one of the Istari actually help with making these blades? It was 300-400 years since their arrival. If the Blue Wizards were already in the East (likely) - it seems out of Radagast's league (EDIT: and outside his area of interest), it doesn't seem like Gandalf's style (and he makes no mention of an association with the weapons)... could it have been Saruman? He was a "man of skill" (and had been a Maia of Aule)... the true nature of the Istari was likely unknown to most (and they were initially written as Numenorean - could they be mistaken for them? Work among them as if they belonged?). He mostly dealt with Men... could HE have tried to help the surviving kingdoms of the north in his early years in this way - while still probably more true to his mission? (and boy - could THIS make a whole 'nuther thread!)

    Anyway - I know there's about nothing else in the text to lead us any further in this. But speculating... what makes sense to you about the making of these daggers?
     
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  6. Merroe

    Merroe Active Member

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    No problem at all, SES, well done.

    Apart from literature and other references, there is a very intriguing parallel which John D. Rateliff wonderfully describes (in his book "The History of the Hobbit") between the stories of Beleg's death in "The Children of Húrin", the dragon's death in TH, the Witch-King's death in LotR, as well as Beleg's death in the story of Beowulf. In each case a special weapon plays a central role in the story.

    Let me quote his full text and reflections here, because I think it is worth reading in this context:

    The motif of the Black Arrow both harkens back to the alliterative poems of the 1920s and ahead to the Numenorean blades in The Lord of the Rings. In 'The Lay of the Children of Hurin', Beleg the Bowman carries a special arrow named Dailir, of which we are told

    . . . Dailir he drew, his dart beloved; howso far fared it, or fell unnoted, unsought he found it with sound feathers and barbs unbroken

    When Beleg stumbles in the dark while rescuing Túrin and breaks this lucky arrow, injuring his hand in the process, the narrator makes clear this is an omen of disaster, and indeed Túrin murders Beleg only minutes later in a tragic case of mistaken identity.

    Bard is more fortunate, in that although his arrow too is ultimately lost, its final act is to exceed all hope by slaying his people's greatest foe, with a sense that it perishes in the act of fulfilling its destiny. This is hinted at by Bard's final words before that fateful shot:

    'If ever you came from the forges of the true king under the Mountain, go now and speed well!';

    compare the narrator's comment when Merry's blade burns away after helping to slay the Witch-King of Angmar (that is, the Lord of the Nazgul):

    So passed the sword of the Barrow-downs [...]

    Once again Beowulf may have contributed something to the idea of a weapon that achieves its goal but then perishes: in the battle with Grendel's dam, Beowulf finds that the sword he has brought cannot harm the monster, but he is able to slay her and to cut off Grendel's head with an ancient sword he finds within her lair. This ealdsweord eotenisc (Beowulf line 1558a; literally, 'old entish sword') then melts away (lines 1606b-1609), leaving only the hilt behind (1614.15-1617). In any case, like Bard himself in the original draft, the Black Arrow is no sooner introduced than it fulfills its role in slaying the seemingly invulnerable dragon and leaves the story.

    With such striking analogies, it can be expected that the origin of the "ultimate" weapon, which perishes after the final deed is done, remains of obscure origin, and that its smith and its forging remain unknown.

    Or ... if it were not, could anyone envisage the option that another one could be made? ... But for what purpose, after the purpose was fulfilled?
     
  7. Squint-eyed Southerner

    Squint-eyed Southerner Skulking near Archet

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    Thanks for those interesting quotes, Meroe.

    Yes, I think it quite likely that Beowulf influenced the Barrow-blades, as it did so much else in Tolkien's writing; it certainly provides a "symmetrical" closure to the Witch-King's story: a "magical" blade, created to counter the rise of a supernatural force, and then, millenia later, fulfilling its purpose and vanishing with its enemy.

    However, as so often, there's ambiguity; recall the words of Strider at Weathertop:

    So the blade melted after its spell was released, but evidently there was more going on: Merry's sword was destroyed, but so was Eowyn's. The difference in the respective descriptions is worth noting; Eowyn's sword "broke sparkling into many shards"; the end of the Barrow-blade is very different:

    There seem to be two opposed images here: cold and heat. The Nazgul are associated with cold, with "frozen fear", and Eowyn's sword reacts as we might expect were it to be thrust into liquid oxygen, say; while Merry's blade smolders and burns away, but slowly, as in cases of "spontaneous combustion".

    Notable also is the use of the words "writhed" and "withered": "writhe", as T.A. Shippey has pointed out, is cognate with both wreath and wraith, and "withered" reminds us of the death of Saruman. I'm not sure of the significance of this, but it's suggestive.

    Valandil, one possibility for origins: we know that the Elves the Lonely Isle came to Numenor in its early days, bringing gifts and knowledge; it could be possible to consider that they imparted the craft of making "magical" artifacts, including "spell-swords". That, of course, is counter to Tolkien's direct statement in his letter that the magic of the Elves was "inherent" and not to be learned by Man through lore or spells. But then, we have his note that the Numenoreans did indeed use "spells" in the making of swords.

    Frustrating as it is, we may have to reconcile ourselves to the first sentence in the letter: the author was "far too casual about 'magic'". :(

    Oh, BTW:
    This seems to me unlikely. The placing of the Stone of Erech, and taking of the Oath, must have happened around S.A. 3320. Sauron attacked Gondor a little over 100 years later, in 3429. That would have been the logical time to demand the fulfilment of the oath. Aragorn's words, in describing the Stone, seem to bear this out:
    Besides which, it would be rather odd to call on someone to fight against Sauron after he'd been defeated! :D
     
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  8. Valandil

    Valandil High King at Annuminas

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    I had forgotten that reference about Isildur summoning them to fulfill their oath. I guess I thought they would know when they needed to come (hear tell there's a war on!) - and thought the curse might have come at the end of the war to which they had failed to come. Part of my reasoning is that Isildur seems to have been occupied in other areas. After the fall of Minas Ithil in the first wave of the war, he left for Arnor - and he returned over the Misty Mountains and down into Dagorlad - and was busy with the war from that side probably until it was over. But... that quote makes it pretty clear. Unless he summoned them at the start of the war, left for Arnor, later found that they had failed to come and cursed them after the war was all over.
     
  9. Squint-eyed Southerner

    Squint-eyed Southerner Skulking near Archet

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    I didn’t include it in the quote, but the passage continues:
    That last sentence strikes an odd note: the war didn't last "through years uncounted"; if we take Sauron's attack on Gondor in 3429 as the start, from beginning to end it lasted only about a dozen. Other than being a mere rhetorical flourish on the part of Isildur, only two possibilities occur to me: one, that being a mortal man, however elevated, he could not really "see" into the future, but envisioned only a very long struggle, perhaps not expecting the entry of the Elves into the war.

    The other possibility, which would be in line with the idea that the curse happened after the war, is that he foresaw the rise of Sauron in the Third Age, and the War of the Ring; however, there is no gap in the text, or any indication of a passage of time between refusal and curse, and further, every description of the last battle and the destruction of Sauron would argue against this. Elrond and Cirdan had deep misgivings as to whether Sauron was banished forever, while the Ring still existed, but Isildur shows, by his keeping of it, that he did not. I hesitate to call a perceived error in the story an authorial slip, until all other possibilities are eliminated, and I'd welcome ideas on this.

    As for the timing of Isildur's summons, I'd lean towards S.A. 3429, at the onset of Sauron's attack on Gondor, but it's certainly possible that it, and the curse, happened after Isildur's escape down the Anduin, on his way to Arnor.

    I've been fascinated with the mysterious Stone of Erech ever since my very first reading, and followed the changes of location, timing, and rationale in the HoME volumes as they came out. I made a number of notes on the subject, but as I don't have access to my library at the moment, I'll mention here only that at one point, the Stone was placed near the seashore where Isildur landed after the destruction of Numenor; later, the author moved it to its final location far inland. If the passage under discussion was written when the former conception was the one held by Tolkien, and left unchanged, it would go a ways toward explaining the timing of the curse: Isildur, escaping the fall of Minas Ithil, landed again at the place of his first "Middle Earth-fall", and in his bitterness at Sauron's victory and the Mountain Men's oath-breaking, cursed them to a kind of living death.

    I note as an aside, Isildur's archaistic language, as related by Aragorn: it is in line with the archaism in the record he made concerning the Ring, and may be only part of Tolkien's technique in marking out the great passage of time -- 3,000 years -- between Isildur and Aragorn. But it also conveys a kind of formal "curse-language"; whether the former, the latter, or both are intended, is a question.

    On the subject of the many changes in the story of the Stone, does the Reader's Companion have anything to say?
     
    Last edited: Jan 4, 2019
  10. Valandil

    Valandil High King at Annuminas

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    I think you're correct. This quote almost certainly comes from 3429 SA. And it's quite plausible that, since Anarion was charged with holding off the advance of Sauron's troops while Isildur went to Arnor, Isildur would in turn attempt to "rally the troops" before his departure.

    I wonder sometimes why it was so compelling that Isildur actually GO to Arnor, when they had the palantiri. There was undoubtedly contact with Elendil via Palantir before he went (unless Elendil was away at Elostirion, gazing west...). Perhaps Elendil wanted one of this sons to physically make the trip to Arnor, maybe to assist in war preparations, to speak directly to his nobles and other officials, even to begin to "warm" them to the idea of succeeding Elendil in the North, rather than continuing as a co-ruler of Gondor.
     
  11. Squint-eyed Southerner

    Squint-eyed Southerner Skulking near Archet

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    It's possible that Isildur, having lost Minas Ithil, and the lands east of the Anduin under his sovereignty, felt that he now had no "official" position, and rather than remain in his brother's part of the realm, it would be more useful for him to go to his father for consultation and instruction; and perhaps, as you suggest, press for help from Men and Elves.

    Though of course there remains the matter of the Palantiri. With Osgiliath under siege, it's conceivable the Master Stone might be removed to Minas Anor for safety, but I find it hard to believe the situation was so chaotic that it couldn't be used. An interesting problem.

    We're getting away from the subject of the Barrow-blades, but something I've always found puzzling is the apparent ease with which Elendil and his sons assumed control of the Numenoreans in Middle Earth. Pelargir, established S.A. 2350, became the "chief haven of the Faithful Numenoreans", but the impression from the appendices and the Akallabeth is that these were always few, compared to the King's Men; and there were hundreds of years during which "imperialist" Numenor held sway in Middle Earth. I don't recall reading of any resistance, when Ar-Pharazon landed. The nine ships, even if they were the size of Ming treasure ships, could not have carried thousands. Perhaps many on the King's side repented, on learning of the destruction of Numenor.

    BTW, that reminds me of something else concerning the Stone of Erech: originally, it was brought much earlier in the return of the Numenoreans to Middle Earth; I wonder if one reason for moving it forward in time, and having it brought by Isildur, was a legalistic one. Had it been placed, and the "treaty" made by, earlier emissaries of the king, the Mountain People could have pointed out with some justification that Isildur, as a "rebel", had no legal claim to their loyalty.

    It does leave the question of why the fleeing Faithful would go to the trouble of taking a 12-14 foot diameter round rock with them. o_O
     
  12. Miguel

    Miguel Active Member

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    Either that (which i like) or they just thrived out of what they had. IIRC, there was no account of the Faithful mixing with Middle-Earth men until after the Kin-strife.
     
  13. Valandil

    Valandil High King at Annuminas

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    As to the number of Exiles in the nine ships, I wonder if it WAS several thousands. I imagine that the Numenoreans might have built ships similar to full-rigged sailing ships of the 1700's & early 1800's. Imagine sort of a three-decker, like HMS Victory, but without the guns. Each of those had a crew of 800+ - so if no cannon, no ammunition and passengers packed in, I think each could have carried a lot.

    And... there were likely lots more descendants of Numenorean colonists, who were Faithful, in the lands what became both the kingdoms of Arnor and of Gondor. See this article - it shows 2011 - but was first posted on a different site about 10-12 years before this:

    https://middle-earth.xenite.org/seeking-the-wayward-children-of-numenor/
     
  14. Miguel

    Miguel Active Member

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    I read the link, that was a clear example of how much depth can be in something that's already deep. I have the feeling this legendarium is endless even if you get to read everything.
     
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  15. Squint-eyed Southerner

    Squint-eyed Southerner Skulking near Archet

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    Thanks for the link, Valandil; interesting article.

    Yes, I concede the point: there might have been several thousand on the voyage, though it's not the impression I got from the text, with all the talk of heirlooms and things stuffed in.

    However, Tolkien's many references to the "mighty works" of the Numenoreans, and various characters lamenting how much knowledge had been lost over the ages, would suggest that shipbuilding could well be an area of diminution of skill. After all, with Numenor gone, there would have been no need for great oceanic voyages; coast-hugging ships would not need to be as large.

    Whether the Ming Dynasty treasure ships were as big as records claimed, or were seagoing vessels at all, I can still envision a Numenorean parallel, even if Tolkien didn't have something so large in mind. Ships of that size could certainly accommodate numbers of people; and the heavy deforestation up the Gwathlo and other areas would seem to indicate many large ships transporting timber back to Numenor.

    I'm reminded of the Anglo-Saxons in Britain who, coming on the Roman works, could attribute them only to orthanc enta geweorc -- the "cunning work of giants".
     
  16. Miguel

    Miguel Active Member

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    Regarding Atlantis, this looks like the latest on it. I was born an hour away from that location and lived there for 28 years, beautiful land, though it can get pretty brutal at times in there. I don't know much about this but i saw some comments saying that some of the structures were not man-made but crafted by Poseidon himself according to Plato.