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Discussing: Grisly Post-Pyre Question

Grisly Post-Pyre Question

Does anyone have an idea of what would be left of Denethor's body after the Pyre-fire abated? Would the body be reduced to ashes, or would there be bones left? Would those bones be charred?

It would be nice, for purposes of something I'm working on, if I could fling a reference to the poor guy's charred bones. However, I'm not sure that most men, even battle-veterans who have seen fire consume orc-bodies, would know the exact effect of the fire in an enclosed and mostly stone space. And the person who mentions Denethor's remains in the story I'm working on has only heard, rather than seen, them.



RAKSHA THE DEMON

 

 

Re: Grisly Post-Pyre Question

Hi Raksha,

Would the body be reduced to ashes, or would there be bones left? Would those bones be charred?

Okay, now you've really done it... you're gonna make me speculate! *shudder*

First of all, it always struck me as odd that a fire in a mausoleum would burn so long and so hot that the dome would fall in....

"... even as Gandalf came to the end of Rath Dínen there was a great noise. Looking back they saw the dome of the house crack and smokes issue forth; and then with a rush and rumble of stone it fell in a flurry of fire; but still unabated the flames danced and flickered among the ruins."

The Return of the King, LoTR Book 5, Ch 7, The Pyre of Denethor

I assumed that such a great hall would be built of stone or marble, and I wasn't sure there would be enough flammable material to burn so hot. However, apparently my assumption is not supported by canon (that I could find):

"... in that space stood the houses and domed tombs of bygone kings and lords, for ever silent...."

The Return of the King, LoTR Book 5, Ch 1, Minas Tirith

"At last they came to Rath Dínen and hastened towards the House of the Stewards, looming in the twilight under its great dome."

The Return of the King, LoTR Book 5, Ch 7, The Pyre of Denethor

But on the other hand, compare the description of the Hall of Kings, which was presumably also considered an important building (though more public) and monument:

"Pippin looked into a great hall. It was lit by deep windows in the wide aisles at either side, beyond the rows of tall pillars that upheld the roof. Monoliths of black marble, they rose to great capitals carved in many strange figures of beasts and leaves; and far above in shadow the wide vaulting gleamed with dull gold, inset with flowing traceries of many colours. No hangings nor storied webs, nor any things of woven stuff or of wood, were to be seen in that long solemn hall; but between the pillars there stood a silent company of tall images graven in cold stone."

The Return of the King, LoTR Book 5, Ch 1, Minas Tirith [emphases mine]

So, unless I'm missing something, it is perhaps possible that the House of the Stewards is made of wood, though I very much doubt it (Minas Tirith isn't called the Stone City for nothing). I also don't believe that marble or stone is particularly flammable.

But maybe there was at least some flammable material (aside from the wood, the oil, and Denethor's body -- which seems too, er, suffused with wet blood to be particularly flammable, but I'm not exactly an expert on such things):

"There Pippin ... saw that he was in a wide vaulted chamber, draped as it were with the great shadows that the little lantern threw upon its shrouded walls."

The Return of the King, LoTR Book 5, Ch 4, The Siege of Gondor [emphasis mine]

Okay, so I was wondering: what does Tolkien mean by "shrouded walls"? It does not seem to refer merely to shadows. Does this mean that they were covered with some sort of black bunting (think: Lincoln's funeral) or tapestries lining the wall?

"And dimly to be seen were many rows of tables, carved of marble; and upon each table lay a sleeping form, hands folded, head pillowed upon stone."

The Return of the King, LoTR Book 5, Ch 4, The Siege of Gondor [emphasis mine]

I'm honestly unsure how to interpret the "sleeping forms"... are they carved marble statues or sarcophagi sitting on the tables (we know the Gondorians valued sculpture), or are they embalmed bodies? We do know that the Númenóreans learned the skill of embalming:

"But the fear of death grew ever darker upon them, and they delayed it by all means that they could; and they began to build great houses for their dead, while their wise men laboured unceasingly to discover if they might the secret of recalling life, or at the least of the prolonging of Men's days. Yet they achieved only the art of preserving incorrupt the dead flesh of Men, and they filled all the land with silent tombs in which the thought of death was enshrined in the darkness."

The Silmarillion, Akallabêth

Now, how would they know if they were successful at "preserving incorrupt" the dead flesh, if they didn't leave the bodies out on display? Okay, I consider that a rather unsettling concept (think: Lenin's tomb), but some cultures are not as squeamish about death and corpses as I am.... (Of course, I wonder whether they also displayed their earlier, less successful experiments in embalming... but I digress.)

And, apparently, the Gondorians continued the practice of embalming:

"'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 Return of the King, LoTR Book 5, Ch 4, The Siege of Gondor

So, the question is, if there were corpses just lying around on these marble tables, were they embalmed with balsams or aromatics that made them flammable?

*Sigh* I'm not entirely sure I want to continue thinking about this, but I will (finally) get to the point: Even if the fire is hot enough to approximate a cremation oven, there would be pieces of bone afterward. I understand that the crematories use something like a large blender to pulverize the chips.

And, no, I don't have a citation for that last bit... I have no clue where I picked up that random tidbit of formerly-useless information.

- Barbara

 

 

Re: Grisly Post-Pyre Question

Generally a non-industrial cremation (ie not in a modern crematorium) is conducted in a closed furnace, something like a kiln, and takes a long time, at least 24 hours. What's left is ash (I think, both of the body and of the fuel) and bones in smallish chunks (small enough to be picked out of the ash with a large pair of chopsticks - the cooking kind, not the eating kind). And the body is at least partially embalmed first, which I suppose makes it more combustible.

 

 

Re: Grisly Post-Pyre Question

I still like to tell myself that Denethor would have actually been killed when the roof fell in...?

 

 

Re: Grisly Post-Pyre Question

Hi Soubrettina,

I still like to tell myself that Denethor would have actually been killed when the roof fell in...?

I can't imagine that he lived that long. I'm sure he died from the initial fire.

"Then Denethor leaped upon the table, and standing there wreathed in fire and smoke he took up the staff of his stewardship that lay at his feet and broke it on his knee. Casting the pieces into the blaze he bowed and laid himself on the table, clasping the palantír with both hands upon his breast. And it was said that ever after, if any man looked in that Stone, unless he had a great strength of will to turn it to other purpose, he saw only two aged hands withering in flame.

Gandalf in grief and horror turned his face away and closed the door. For a while he stood in thought, silent upon the threshold, while those outside heard the greedy roaring of the fire within. And then Denethor gave a great cry, and afterwards spoke no more, nor was ever again seen by mortal men."

The Return of the King, LoTR Book 5, Ch 7, The Pyre of Denethor

I suspect the "great cry" was just before his death. The roof didn't cave in until a few paragraphs later.

- Barbara

 

 

Re: Grisly Post-Pyre Question

Hey, that's a point. The account of the palantír suggests that Denethor was still clutching it when he died, so presumably somebody did excavate the remains of the tomb.

 

 

Re: Grisly Post-Pyre Question

Hey, that's a point. The account of the palantír suggests that Denethor was still clutching it when he died, so presumably somebody did excavate the remains of the tomb, else they would never have found it.

 

 

Re: Grisly Post-Pyre Question

Hi Soubrettina,

The account of the palantír suggests that Denethor was still clutching it when he died, so presumably somebody did excavate the remains of the tomb.

Yes, I presume that at some point, they chose to remove the debris from the fire... after all, Rath Dínen is called the Hallows; I presume they wouldn't want to leave a huge pile of rubble in such a hallowed place.

- Barbara

 

 

Re: Grisly Post-Pyre Question

Would the body be reduced to ashes, or would there be bones left? Would those bones be charred?

I would expect ashes and chunks of charred bone.

But maybe there was at least some flammable material (aside from the wood, the oil, and Denethor's body -- which seems too, er, suffused with wet blood to be particularly flammable, but I'm not exactly an expert on such things):

With a really hot fire, the moisture would evaporate very fast. In some of the funeral rituals in India they pour sacred water on the head of the corpse and it doesn't hinder combustion because the pyre generates such intense heat.

 

 

Re: Grisly Post-Pyre Question

I wanted to be sure that Aragorn, entering the City and being told of the pyre, could, in his thoughts, refer credibly to Denethor's remains as "a mess of charred bones". Aragorn has probably seen orc-corpses burned on pyres, but may not be an expert in crematorial matters; so it sounds like I can get away with him saying that.

Thanx, all, for your excellent research and comments.

Though now I'm worried for Elendil's remains - didn't UT say that they were moved to the Hallows? Presumably the fire started in the Steward's House stayed there and didn't scourge the other buildings.

I can just see the ghosts of all the previous Stewards really being annoyed as dead-Denethor enters their company, i.e. Mardil or Cirion or even Ecthelion II saying "Thanks, kid; you burned us out, all our bones and monuments are ruined!".



RAKSHA

 

 

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