Forum: Research Questions

Discussing: Bloodletting (medical)

Bloodletting (medical)

Tolkien refers to the "leechcraft" of Gondor; however, has anyone seen any references to the practice of medical bloodletting (by leeches or by opening a vein)? A recent newstory cites a study that claims bloodletting may have helped prevent infection. In the early stages, the bacteria need iron to flourish; if the amount of available iron was reduced, the infection might be prevented. So, in some cases, bloodletting actually worked! Weird question, yes, but I was wondering if the practice is mentioned anywhere. Regards Branwyn



Re: Bloodletting (medical)

Tolkien refers to the "leechcraft" of Gondor; however, has anyone seen any references to the practice of medical bloodletting (by leeches or by opening a vein)? If you mean specific references in Tolkien, I don't recall any, but I can look further tonight. If you mean genuine medical usage, the answer is 'yes'. Leeches are used after surgery in certain cases to decrease clotting in the area since they secrete a natural anticoagulant. Bloodletting is also still used in a few diseases, one where the body makes too many red blood cells, another where there is too much iron. Lyllyn



Re: Bloodletting (medical)

I did a quick search through the texts of LotR, the Silm, UT and the Hobbit, but aside from the usage of the terms leeches (meaning healers) or leechcraft, I have found no specific references to the actual practive of applying leeches or of bloodletting. As for the handful of quotes from LotR:
'If this is bewitchment,' said Théoden, 'it seems to me more wholesome than your whisperings. Your leechcraft ere long would have had me walking on all fours like a beast...' (Théoden to Gríma in TTT: The King of the Golden Hall) '...Alas! My old age is not feigned nor due only to the whisperings of Wormtongue. It is an ill that no leech can wholly cure, not even Gandalf.' (Théoden to Gandalf in TTT: The Road to Isengard) 'Men of Rohan!' he cried. 'Are there no leeches among you? She is hurt to the death maybe, but I deem that she yet lives.' (Imrahil to the Rohirrim who carried Éowyn off the field of the Pelennor in RotK: The Battle of the Pelennor Fields) For though all lore was in these latter days fallen from its fullness of old, the leechcraft of Gondor was still wise, and skilled in the healing of wound and hurt, and all such sickness as east of the Sea mortal men were subject to.... (RotK: The Houses of Healing)
For information on RL usage of leeches, I will leave you in Lyllyn's far more knowledgeable hands. ~Nessime Addendum: I nearly forgot. In HoM-e 3 there is a list of words with this introductory paragraph:
Both Lays, but especially The Children of Hurin, make use of some totally lost words (and lost meanings), but the list includes also a good many that remain well-known literary archaisms, and some words that are neither but are of very limited currency.
One of the listed words is "leeches- physicians, L 3055, 3144" [numbers indicate the lines in The Children of Hurin that use the word].



Re: Bloodletting (medical)

Hullo, I meant references to bloodletting in Tolkien's writings (sorry, I should have been more specific). Actually, a few months ago, the US Food and Drug Administration gave leeches their official approval, LOL. They are considered "medical devices!" I do realize that "leech" and "leechcraft" are simply archaic terms for the physician and the practice of medicine. I was just wondering if Tolkien mentions the actual use of bloodletting. Thanks for an interesting reply and please let me know if you find anything. Regards Branwyn



Re: Bloodletting (medical)

Hullo, Nessime-- Thanks much! When I saw the news item which stated that medical bloodletting actually had benefits, I thought, "Hey, that could be useful in a story someday--I wonder if Tolkien mentions it?" It doesn't sound like it, does it? [heavy sigh]. Hmmm, maybe since the practice had fallen out of favor by the time Tolkien was writing, he would not have had the healers in his universe employ it. Guess I'll have to stick to the non-therapeutic sort of bloodletting in my stories....Thank you very much for your time and for the interesting references! Regards Branwyn



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 Research Questions

Stories linked to the forum