30 May 04 10:07 AM
Reply To: 26232
Elanor, Julie, & Astara,
Geez, I go away for a day and a discussion breaks out!
I think all three of you are losing some of the narrative forest for the canonical trees, but it's a reasonable distraction.
When I wrote Ecthelion's infidelity into the story, I was not thinking explicitly of the "as of nearest kin" phrase, but quickly noted that it was a very useful coincidence. The irony being, of course, that *Denethor* looks like the (hidden) king, but everyone is reading the signs backwards, as it were. The real rumors should be wondering if Denethor is actually Ecthelion's child, since the Warden resembles Thorongil more than he does his own family. So, you end up with the strange situation where the kinship is only partially of blood, but much more of destiny - it is not a mistake that Denethor & Aragorn should be almost the same age and be so similar to each other in this particular time of trial and danger.
As for the infidelity of the Steward, yes, under most circumstances, such behavior would be unthinkable among the Dunedain. So is human sacrifice, but they did do that, as well, on Numenor. The existence of behavior and customs at odds with their cultural legacy is a representation of the degree to which the society is being affected by the presence of Sauron and is itself in decline. It is a clear sign that Things Are Very Bad (TM). The Corsairs (also Dunedain) have fallen into yet worse behavior. I do point to the appendices A & B to remind everyone that Tolkien wrote of kings & other nobles often falling into stupid, wicked, and base behaviors - power corrupts. What is amazing is that the Stewards have ruled for so long and have held the kingdom together so well. As I'm presenting it, it takes the return of Sauron to directly affect this very noble house. They have had more staying power than the kings.
Which leads to the character himself. Ecthelion, like so many others in Minas Tirith, is fundamentally despairing. How can they in their decline fend off this ancient enemy? It is the despair that allows his less noble impulses to take root and grow. People do not approve of what he does, but they are not going to abandon their ruler for this kind of moral failure - no leader is worse than a flawed leader. Also, by the time the story takes place, this behavior is in the past. It stopped shortly before he became Steward, and now he has Gandalf to help him overcome the worst of the sense of despair that led him into this type of behavior in the first place. It has always been significant to me that Gandalf gave so much attention to *this* Steward in particular, when he otherwise left them alone. To me, this indicates there was something wrong enough to warrent intervention.
So, I'm not trying to say "Oh Tolkien *meant* that people thought Thorongil was Ecthelion's bastard." He meant the opposite - that Denethor was removed from the ordinary line of Stewards in some way. What I am trying to do is show the moral decay that has slowly crept up upon the Dunedain of Gondor, and which is finally affecting even the ruling house. It is not complete, as it is with the Corsairs, and they rally quickly when given leaders who can fend off the rot, such as Adrahil, Thorongil and, yes, Denethor. But it is there. The kingdom and the culture stand in need of a new foundation.
As for the half-sisters, each one who exists has a distinct role to play in the story, and is very much her own person. The concept of legitimacy is a key one in HotK, and also that of belonging - who will be inside the society and who not, how are social boundaries drawn, who counts as kin and why, when may illegitimacy be converted to its opposite, and so on. It is crucial in how people respond to Thorongil - his membership in Gondorian society is predicated upon an illegitimate relationship in this interpretation. On what grounds can he make claims to rule? I very purposefully make Thorongil tempted by the idea he could, right now, become king if he plays his cards right. What, in the end, turns him away from temptation and towards a longer, less certain path? With the sisters, there is a less grand attempt to take a place in the society, but each strives to overcome a mixed legacy - to wrongly be of the most noble house in Gondor. It is another way to bring out the two-edged nature of an obsession with blood purity. Is someone like Beregar or Morwen less suitable for positions of authority than someone like Isilmo?