Forum: Medicine in Middle Earth

Discussing: Faramir's fever

Faramir's fever

I'm trying to figure out if Faramir's fever in ROTK (in the book) can be traced to any definite cause, either real or supernatural, and if so, what that cause might be.

Faramir's condition is described as "fevered" from the time Denethor takes charge of him through the moment when, about two days later, Aragorn finally heals him. Faramir calls on his father once during "his dream", but seems to be silent rather than delirious for the remainder of the time he is unconscious. When Merry and Eowyn are also brought to the Houses of Healing, their condition and Faramir's are, it is implied, caused by the "Black Shadow", which comes from the Nazgul. But a distinction is made between the symptoms of the other Black Shadow sufferers and Faramir's: the former pass into a deadly cold before they die, and a grey shadow passes over their faces..."But Faramir burned with a fever that did not abate."

Imrahil, who drew the arrow from Faramir (it is never specified where the arrow hit, btw), believed that the dart was sent by "the Shadows above" (presumably Air Nazgul), being unable to otherwise explain Faramir's "fever and sickness", the wound itself being neither deep nor vital.

Aragorn draws a distinction between the condition of Faramir, Eowyn and Merry from the other sufferers of the Black Shadow (a.k.a. the Black Breath). He draws a further distinction when he says that Faramir's time is running out "most soon". Aragorn's reply to Imrahil's question about the cause of Faramir's illness is that Faramir is "nearly spent", but not because of the wound, which is healing, and that the arrow was of Southron origin rather than Nazgul/Morgul - had Faramir been struck by a Nazgul dart, he would have died the same night.

Aragorn states quite definitely that Faramir's illness is caused by "grief for his father's mood, a wound, and over all the Black Breath". Aragorn also mentions Faramir's strong will, and his having suffered prolonged exposure to the "Shadow" before he ever rode "to battle on the outwalls", and "the dark" creeping up on Faramir while he tried to hold "his outpost" (?Ithilien).

I still don't understand how prolonged exposure to the Shadow, combined with a wound that isn't life-threatening and is healing properly (which would seem to rule out infection), and "grief" over Denethor's nastiness (which Faramir seemed to be handling rather well) would cause a fever in Faramir, while Eowyn, who is succumbing to depression and has been breathed on and hurt by the Witch-King himself, has no fever, only the chill of the Black Breath. If prolonged exposure to the Shadow, combined with sorrow and a minor wound, causes a deadly Black Breath + fever combination, wouldn't other men under Faramir's command have the same condition, since surely they incurred both wounds and losses (of friends, comrades and possibly kin) in the last few months?

Could there be another cause of Faramir's fever that Aragorn isn't mentioning? I've heard that dehydration might cause fever. Could Denethor, who had charge of Faramir for at least 24 hours or so, have neglected to give his son water, since Faramir was unconscious and Denethor couldn't awaken him? Can an unconscious person be given water without his/her aspirating the fluid? (I've heard both sides of that question) It is entirely possible that Aragorn knew about Denethor's last days from Gandalf before Aragorn examined Faramir. One can also assume that if it was possible to give Faramir fluids, he was given them after being brought to the Houses of Healing. Aragorn might have decided not to bring further shame on Denethor by saying that Denethor was remiss in the care of his son; since saying so would not have helped Faramir at the time Aragorn saw him.

I'd appreciate some thoughts, hopefully by folks more medically knowledgeable than I am. I need the info for a story I'm tinkering with...

Apologies if this topic has been previously discussed. I did check both in Research Questions and in the H-A archive.




Re: Faramir's fever

Hi, Raksha.

Dehydration is not a very common cause of fever - more a result of it. However, if Denethor - or someone else - had tried to water him, a water went into his lungs insted of stomach, then Faramir might have developed pneumonia from aspiration - something very common in the elderly with impaired swallowing reflex.

Another reason of his fever might be septisemia (sp?) - blood poisoning. You don't need a gaping wound to have that - a scratch is enough, as long as certain germs enter the bloodstream.

Then, of course, there's always the chance that he was injured by a poisonous blade.

Last, but not least, there's the chance of fever due to brain damage - after a concusion of sorts. Some times, victims of injures to the head rrun a fever because their brain's temperature controls get confused.

That's all I can think of now. I hope that helped.

Happy Holidays,




Re: Faramir's fever


To add to what Werecat says, it seems to me that septicemia is probably the most likely cause of Faramir's fever. An infected wound, esp. before the modern medical era, would almost certainly lead to some type of fever.

Also, since fever is just the body's response to pathogens or infection, one thing to consider is how Faramir's state of mind might affect his ability to fight off the infection. There's some research now that stress and depression can make wound-healing and immune responses much slower. It's possible that Faramir is worse off than either Merry or Eowyn, because he's been dealing with much more stress over a much longer time than either of those two.



Re: Faramir's fever

Werecat and roh wyn, much thanx for your input.

Now for the million-dollar question, since septicemia seems a reaonable cause of that pesky fever - can one have septicemia if the wound that caused it appears to be on the mend? As Aragorn examines Faramir, he points out to Gandalf that Faramir is "nearly spent" but that it doesn't come from the wound (This comes not from the wound. See! that is healing.).

If the arrow that injured Faramir was poisoned, would the wound still appear to be healing? I'm wondering about a low-level poison, something that could weaken an adult man without necessarily killing him outright, and thus make him either easier prey on the battlefield. After all, Faramir fell unconscious immediately after being shot, despite days and possibly months of Black Breath exposure.

JRRT also mentions that Faramir's forehead was drenched with sweat and that Faramir appeared hardly to breathe. Is that normal for a high fever (presumably not a fever high enough to cause permanent brain damage after he came out of it....of course, Faramir's Numenorean constitution probably was helpful;)?




Re: Faramir's fever

can one have septicemia if the wound that caused it appears to be on the mend?

I think, yes. The pathogens that cause the septicemia could have entered the bloodstream before the wound started to heal. Plus, what does "healing" mean in Aragorn's statement? If it's a reference to a full closing of the wound with formation of scar tissue, etc., it's probably too late for that wound to be infected. On the other hand, if Aragorn just means that the wound's stopped bleeding (i.e. clotting has started), then I think septicemia is still possible.

I don't know to what extent poison affects wound healing, but it seems possible that the wound itself could heal after the poison was introduced into the bloodstream. For example, when you're bitten by a mosquito, the actual incision the bug makes heals in no time at all, but you itch and swell up for hours after....

The sweaty fever thing is interesting. Sweating is pretty common when you have a high fever, because sweat is the body's cooling mechanism, and the body is trying to restore a normal internal temperature. The odd thing is that people usually sweat when their fever breaks or starts to go down. So if Faramir is sweating that much, it would follow that his fever should be going down...which would be contrary to what JRRT is saying.



Re: Faramir's fever

Dehydration might cause a very slight fever, but I agree that it's more likely the result than the cause.

A wound might not be infected, and still cause a slight fever, but that doesn't accord with Tolkien's description of "a desperate fever." Septicemia is possible, but very few people survive that. OTOH you could argue that Faramir is young and strong, and healed by the king. However, Aragorn's "‘Weariness, grief for his father’s mood, a wound, and over all the Black Breath,’ " would argue against septicemia.

One thing to bear in mind is that all people don't react the same to a particular illness or injury. Faramir, with a wound, long period of stress of command, and grief, might not react the same as others. Also, different exposures to Black Breath could result in different symptoms - it certainly happens in RL that the same disease has different manifestations.




Re: Faramir's fever

Thanx much, Lyllyn and Roh wyn!

I've been doing some involuntary fever research by having one. Alas, no battle-stained grey-eyed Dunadan turned up with athelas; but I did manage to experience interesting symptoms and play connect-the-dots with two doctors' offices. I never felt "fevered" or "drenched with sweat" though; perhaps because the fever's cause had nothing to do with exposure to Shadow; and I wasn't taking on any mounted Haradrim champions to cause sudden perforation by arrows or other pointy objects...

So, to explain Faramir's fever, I either will have to go wtih JRRT's stated diagnosis via Aragorn and perhaps extrapolate on it (Faramir being more exhausted than any the men he rode with to the river due to the burdens of his position and his grief and Denethor's "mood", plus perhaps extra Black Breath exposure), or add somewhat out-of-canon poison to the mix. In other words, actually make a decision. Urkle.

RAKSHA, feeling indecisive



In Forums

Discussion Info

Intended for: General Audience

This forum is open to all HASA members. It is read-only for the general public.

Membership on HASA is free and it takes only a few minutes to join. If you would like to participate, please click here.

If you are already a member, please log in to participate.

« Back to Medicine in Middle Earth