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  1. #1

    Question Re: the Shards of Narsil

    Something has troubled me for sometime on which I would appreciate your collective thoughts:

    Why was Aragorn carrying the shards of Narsil (or at least the broken hilt) when he meets Frodo in Bree?

    My understanding is that at some point after the fall of the northern kingdom, the shards of Narsil and the Ring of Barahir were taken to Rivendell for safekeeping (I no longer remember exactly when, it may have been as late as the death of Arathorn). Aragorn appears to have made the affirmative choice to take the shards of Narsil out of Rivendell and bear them into danger in the wild. It just doesn't make sense to me. Given the circumstances of Aragorn's daily life, I cannot understand why he would not have carried an unbroken sword for personal defense. My dilemma is premised on the assumption that Aragorn was not carrying a second, unbroken blade in a separate sheath at his side, but as far as I know there is no indication that this was the case. Even if it were true, I cannot understand why Aragorn would have risked the loss of Narsil in the event that something happened to him. Conceivably on that score he might have felt that since he was the last of his line if he were killed it might not matter - but it would still seem to be a foolish risk with no benefit.

    Certainly Professor Tolkien may have included the broken hilt in the scene at the Prancing Pony simply for dramatic effect, but I am wondering if anyone has a plausible in-story explanation for why Aragorn. Many thanks for your input.
    Last edited by Vilnas; Mar 09 2009 at 08:30 PM.
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  2. #2
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    Re: Question Re: the Shards of Narsil

    Wow...a fascinating question. And one I never thought of before. I just went back and read the account of the attack of the Nazgul near Weathertop, and sure enough it says Aragorn had two flaming brands, one in each hand. I would think that, had he had a (usable) sword, he would have chosen to have that in one of his hands and a torch in the other.

    I can only think of two reasons for him to carry the shards with him. Neither is terribly convincing, but it is the best I can do.

    1. For identification. Should his identity ever be challenged, possessing the shards of Narsil would be about as convincing a calling card as one could carry. Of course, that presumes the person asking for such identification was sufficiently wise in the lore to read the runes on the broken blade that identify it as such. The problem with this theory is that one who was sufficiently wise in that lore to read the runes & recognize Narsil, would also likely be able to recognize the ring of Barahir, which Aragorn always wore. This makes carrying the shards superfluous, and just an extra burden of weight that someone traveling long distances on foot would not want to carry except in great need.

    2. For reforging. Rivendell would not be the only place left in Middle Earth where the shards could be reforged; and not knowing where his path might take him, Aragorn might have feared being in a situation where the time was right for reforging and he was lacking the shards. Certainly in Lorien there would still be craftsmen with the ability to reforge the weapon--and Aragorn would have known this, from having spent time in Lorien before. He probably held out the hope in his heart that in Minas Tirith there might (possibly?) be craftsmen of adequate skill as well...and it seems clear that Aragorn knew that at some point his path would take him there. Thus, not know where he might be when the time would be right for the sword to be re-made, he always carried the shards with him.

    Those are my two theories, with the latter one being the theory I favor the most.
    Last edited by MithrilSoul; Mar 09 2009 at 09:16 PM.
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  3. #3

    Re: Question Re: the Shards of Narsil

    Thank you. I agree that for purposes of identification, the ring of Barahir would seem to be the superior choice with regard to anyone to whom Aragorn might have felt the need to prove his identity. I don't have the text handy at the moment, but query what Aragorn showed Sauron in the palantir during their "confrontation" after the battle of Helm's Deep? Was it the ring, the sword, or both? I don't think the answer would prove anything either way, but I'm am curious.

    As for the reforging argument, that is a creative suggestion and I agree that it at least provides some traction for dealing with my little problem. I think there are some drawbacks with that explanation, though. For example, Aragorn would have had to believe that the likelihood that he would be unable to return to Rivendell and fetch the shards outweighed the disadvantage of not carrying a whole weapon and the risk of loss. On the other hand, my recollection of the treatment of Narsil from the various texts is that the Elrond held off on reforging it until the time was right, rather than due to any difficulty with the task. Thus, it was always a question of when to reforge, rather than in issue of whether it could be done. I think that is part of what you were getting at. Perhaps the point was that the "moment" might arise when Aragorn found himself far away from Rivendell, and the reforging process wasn't so difficult that it couldn't be accomplished in other places.

    In any case, I recognize that the suggestion was offered in the spirit in which the question was asked - is there any colorable argument to be made for why he carried it - rather than as something that you are standing behind as a firm probability. Thanks again for your ideas!
    [charsig=http://lotrosigs.level3.turbine.com/0920d00000003106c/signature.png]Celedriel[/charsig]

  4. Re: Question Re: the Shards of Narsil

    First, Narsil isn't just a broken blade. It's a broken, but still very potent and enchanted blade. It can still do the cutty-slicey; but maybe at a shorter range.

    Second, the risk of losing Narsil doesn't mean much. It's a sword that's meant to be used, not to be looked at in a museum. Same reason Gil-galad marched into battle with Aieglos and Gandalf with Glamdring. Their loss would be horrible, but its outweighed by their usefulness.

    Third, as said before, its a symbol of his station and its profoundly sentimental. The King of Gondor and Arnor isn't going to walk around Middle-Earth with anything less.

    And lastly, and least importantly, I like the idea of Aragorn carrying around a broken sword. There's something poetic about it.... :-)
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  5. Re: Question Re: the Shards of Narsil

    Just thought of another one - it could symbolize the broken kingdom of Westernesse and Gondor/Arnor.
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  6. #6

    Re: Question Re: the Shards of Narsil

    I agree with the symbolism idea. Narsil needed to be re-forged into a single blade as Arnor and Gondor needed to be reunited into one Kingdom. Aragorn had to prove his worth and take an active role in this and so did Narsil, a constant reminder of what the struggle was all about. I think the reason Aragorn wielded fire at Weathertop is partially because he knew that a blade would be useless plus he would be revealing his true linage to the Witch King before he was ready to do so.
    "You can't fight the Enemy with his own Ring without turning into an Enemy" - J.R.R. Tolkien, Letter # 81



  7. #7

    Re: Question Re: the Shards of Narsil

    Thanks again for the replies. I think the symbolism and re-forge arguments may together be enough for me to finally get this burr out of my shirt. Do you feel that these motivations would be enough for Aragorn to forego carrying a more traditionally useful weapon for his personal defense and the protection of his charges? That's the one thing I am still troubled by.
    [charsig=http://lotrosigs.level3.turbine.com/0920d00000003106c/signature.png]Celedriel[/charsig]

  8. Re: Question Re: the Shards of Narsil

    Quote Originally Posted by Vilnas View Post
    Thanks again for the replies. I think the symbolism and re-forge arguments may together be enough for me to finally get this burr out of my shirt. Do you feel that these motivations would be enough for Aragorn to forego carrying a more traditionally useful weapon for his personal defense and the protection of his charges? That's the one thing I am still troubled by.
    I'm pretty sure he carried a bow, and doubtless he carried a knife or two. By Narsil, even broken, is Middle-Earth's equivalent of a nuclear bomb. To say nothing about its ability to physically damage a body, just SEEING it caused Orcs and Evil Men to wet themselves.
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  9. #9
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    Re: Question Re: the Shards of Narsil

    Because it's cool, that's why.
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  10. #10
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    Re: Question Re: the Shards of Narsil

    Quote Originally Posted by Arasilion View Post
    I'm pretty sure he carried a bow, and doubtless he carried a knife or two. By Narsil, even broken, is Middle-Earth's equivalent of a nuclear bomb. To say nothing about its ability to physically damage a body, just SEEING it caused Orcs and Evil Men to wet themselves.
    But the problem with this is, of course, that should Aragorn "display" the sword, he would immediately have given away his identity. He had the opportunity (for example, during the attack on Weathertop) but chose to never use the sword in that way.

    It's an interesting thought, I'm just not sure I buy it.
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  11. Re: Question Re: the Shards of Narsil

    Quote Originally Posted by MithrilSoul View Post
    But the problem with this is, of course, that should Aragorn "display" the sword, he would immediately have given away his identity. He had the opportunity (for example, during the attack on Weathertop) but chose to never use the sword in that way.

    It's an interesting thought, I'm just not sure I buy it.
    Ringwraiths are essentially mini-Saurons. In other words, they are the exception to the rule. For one thing, they have no bodies to harm...
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  12. #12
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    Re: Question Re: the Shards of Narsil

    Quote Originally Posted by Arasilion View Post
    Ringwraiths are essentially mini-Saurons. In other words, they are the exception to the rule. For one thing, they have no bodies to harm...
    Yes, but don't forget that Éowyn and Merry, with his Barrow-blade, were able to take down the Witch-king. That would seem to suggest that wraiths can be harmed by blades; at the very least, special blades.
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  13. Re: Question Re: the Shards of Narsil

    Quote Originally Posted by Reddhawk View Post
    Yes, but don't forget that Éowyn and Merry, with his Barrow-blade, were able to take down the Witch-king. That would seem to suggest that wraiths can be harmed by blades; at the very least, special blades.
    Merry's blade was specifically made to get past the Witch-king's insanely high D/P/E rating :-)
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  14. #14
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    Re: Question Re: the Shards of Narsil

    Looking through the Appendix(The Tale of Aragorn and Arwen) in The Return of the King, it says that when Aragorn came of age:

    "Elrond called him by his true name, and told him who he was and whose son; and he delivered to him the heirlooms of his house."

    "'Here is the ring of Barahir,' he said, "'the token of our kinship from afar; and here also are the shards of Narsil."
    So Aragorn had them in his possession for many years, and would have awaited the day of their reforging. Like he said in TFOTR, Chapter X - Strider:

    "He drew out his sword, and they saw that the blade was indeed broken a foot below the hilt. 'Not much use it is, Sam?' said Strider. 'But the time is near when it shall be forged anew.'"
    .

    Who went over there and threw a brick through their window?

  15. #15

    Re: Question Re: the Shards of Narsil

    Carrying the broken sword would be a small burden, so it is not an issue of burden. A sword is not particularly useful in day-to-day life, his bow and knife would serve him better.. while Aragorn led a difficult life in the wilderness, at times, I doubt that he was faced with combat situations on a regular basis. His was a life of the shadows and woods for the most part (and in sure battle situations he could arm and armour himself accordingly, i.e. his sojourn in Rohan at an earlier age).

    The Shards are something of great worth to Aragorn, himself--a sign of what MIGHT be, a goad, if you will to proper action, a symbol of his lineage. He would, I think, carry them as a constant reminder of the past and a sign of hope for the future. It is a morale and psychological issue, primarily.

    There is no overriding reason to carry the Shards, but at the same time there is no real reason why he should not--none, at least, that outweigh what he, personally and psychologically derives from having them with him.

    The Shards (or even the sword reforged) would have availed Aragorn little at Weathertop... the sword predates the existance of the Rings and of the Nazgul.. and while it is a powerful weapon, it would have (IMO) no special power against the Nazgul--Merry's knife would be more effective. The flaming torches were likely more effective.

    Most "magical" weapons in ME are not particularly magical, from what we see.. they may be keener of edge or may glow or shine in the right circumstances, but they aren't weapons on the order of Elric's sword or Daubiendek (sp?) or even some of the more mundane magical swords of mythology. Weapons of reverance and repute, because of their story or history... things that may cause a foe to feel fear, who knows the weapon... but nothing more.

  16. #16
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    Re: Question Re: the Shards of Narsil

    Also, it was said that any blade that struck the Nazgul would perish, even Merry's knife dissolved after he struck the Witch-King. I highly doubt Aragorn would want Narsil to be destroyed






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  17. #17

    Re: Question Re: the Shards of Narsil

    Quote Originally Posted by Kosomot View Post
    Carrying the broken sword would be a small burden, so it is not an issue of burden. A sword is not particularly useful in day-to-day life, his bow and knife would serve him better.. while Aragorn led a difficult life in the wilderness, at times, I doubt that he was faced with combat situations on a regular basis. His was a life of the shadows and woods for the most part (and in sure battle situations he could arm and armour himself accordingly, i.e. his sojourn in Rohan at an earlier age).

    The Shards are something of great worth to Aragorn, himself--a sign of what MIGHT be, a goad, if you will to proper action, a symbol of his lineage. He would, I think, carry them as a constant reminder of the past and a sign of hope for the future. It is a morale and psychological issue, primarily.

    There is no overriding reason to carry the Shards, but at the same time there is no real reason why he should not--none, at least, that outweigh what he, personally and psychologically derives from having them with him.

    The Shards (or even the sword reforged) would have availed Aragorn little at Weathertop... the sword predates the existance of the Rings and of the Nazgul.. and while it is a powerful weapon, it would have (IMO) no special power against the Nazgul--Merry's knife would be more effective. The flaming torches were likely more effective.

    Most "magical" weapons in ME are not particularly magical, from what we see.. they may be keener of edge or may glow or shine in the right circumstances, but they aren't weapons on the order of Elric's sword or Daubiendek (sp?) or even some of the more mundane magical swords of mythology. Weapons of reverance and repute, because of their story or history... things that may cause a foe to feel fear, who knows the weapon... but nothing more.
    Thank you, and to the others who have posted. I think I am now satisfied. Here is my next question, for which I believe I have a satisfactory answer, but I am curious to hear the reaction of this most thoughtful community:

    Why did the Witch King withdraw after wounding Frodo at Weathertop rather than doing everything within his power to seize the Ring?

    The One Ring was right there for the taking, and by taking it the WK could have immediately ended the entire War of the Ring with victory for Sauron. I understand the usual explanations: Frodo was wounded by a Morgul blade and would soon come under the WK's control. The WK misjudged Frodo's toughness. The Nazgul were surprised by Aragorn's sudden onslaught with fire. The chief weapons of the Nazgul were fear and despair, rather than direct violence. Etc. But too much could go wrong by delaying, as circumstances showed. If nothing else, shouldn't the WK have been concerned that Frodo's nameless warrior companion would have seized the Ring for himself once Frodo weakened, putting the WK in a more disadvantageous position than when he started? Also, are we really to believe that the WK (who was once a mighty warrior/prince/sorceror himself), backed up by four other Nazgul and "knowing" that he could not be defeated by any "mortal man," would withdraw from a night time confrontatation with a nameless man with a torch and three hobbits when the One Ring was within his grasp? [It's like the Osgiliath scene in the PJ movie - how the heck did the Nazgul that Frodo "offered" the Ring to not call down a nuclear strike on the Freeps after the location of the One Ring had been pinned down?]

    I wrestled with this problem for some time as well, but I have developed a theory that works for me at least. I will share it later today or tomorrow have others have had a chance to provide their own ideas.
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  18. Re: Question Re: the Shards of Narsil

    Why did the Witch King withdraw after wounding Frodo at Weathertop rather than doing everything within his power to seize the Ring?
    This is drawing upon memory, but the WK was unnervved. For one, Frodo called upon the name of Elbereth - and it wasn't just an empty prayer. Second, the WK narrowly missed Frodo's blade. If it had hit him, he would have some serious problems; because Frodo's blade came from the same place as Merry's and had the same enchantment. Third, they didn't expect any resistance, at least none of this magnitude. Instead, here came the King of Gondor, a man whose veins run with the blood of Numenor, the Eldar, and Maia combined, carrying a very nasty blade and lots of flaming torches.

    Perhaps there's other reasons, but that's what I can think of.
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  19. #19

    Re: Question Re: the Shards of Narsil

    Quote Originally Posted by Arasilion View Post
    This is drawing upon memory, but the WK was unnervved. For one, Frodo called upon the name of Elbereth - and it wasn't just an empty prayer. Second, the WK narrowly missed Frodo's blade. If it had hit him, he would have some serious problems; because Frodo's blade came from the same place as Merry's and had the same enchantment. Third, they didn't expect any resistance, at least none of this magnitude. Instead, here came the King of Gondor, a man whose veins run with the blood of Numenor, the Eldar, and Maia combined, carrying a very nasty blade and lots of flaming torches.

    Perhaps there's other reasons, but that's what I can think of.
    I don't know, I don't think that works for me. It is my belief that if the Nazgul knew that the true King of Gondor was present they would have done everything in their power to slay him. And what was the magnitude of the resistance? A call upon Elbereth, a feeble slash by a hobbit with a knife that caught the hem of a cloak, a man with two torches? [Who they knew in advance was present I might add - only in the movie does Aragorn leave the hobbits alone and come back in the nick of time.] In my mind those would not be sufficient to drive off five Nazgul led by the WK. Aragorn himself dismissed Frodo's attempted knife slash, saying something to the effect of "more deadly to him was the name of Elbereth". Now this is good support for your point that when Frodo called upon Elbereth it wasn't an empty prayer. Clearly there was some virtue there and I do think it was an important factor. However, I don't think that invocation, coupled with the things you mentioned, would have been enough. My point is that we must consider the magnitude of the situation for the WK. He is an utter slave to Sauron's will and has been charged with finding the One Ring for his master. The Ring is before him, held by a sniveling hobbit whom he has just gravely wounded. The hobbit is wearing the Ring and can be clearly seen in the spirit world. The only obstacles between the WK and utter victory are three more hobbits and some nameless man with torches. Wouldn't the presence of the Ring override any doubt that the WK might experience as a result of the errant knife slash, the torches and the call to Elbereth? I believe there was an additional overriding factor that made the WK act as he did.
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  20. #20
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    Re: Question Re: the Shards of Narsil

    I think that there are many reasons why Aragorn kept the Shards.

    1. A touchstone to remind him of who he was.
    2. To keep others safe, "Death comes to any man that draws Elendil's sword save Elendil's heir."
    3. To protect it from people who would want to use the sword's power to save Middle-earth. If anyone else had tried to use it, they would have died, and the sword would have been lost.
    The main reason I think the Nazgul retreated was because they weren't prepared. They didn't expect Aragorn to come in time to save the Hobbits from attack. They expected the enemy to wilt in fear in front of them. Once they realized they faced strong opposition, they decided to wait until they had their whole number. They also expected stabbing Frodo to be sufficient for their needs. Frodo should not have been able to survive that long with the knifepoint in him.

  21. #21
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    Re: Question Re: the Shards of Narsil

    I think the question on the shards has been sufficiently covered (at least in my mind) so I'll try to give you my answer on why the Nazgul retreated at Weathertop.

    It seems that a united courageous front is always held in higher regard in Tolkien's mythos than an overwhelming strength of arms, so we can again use the "symbolic" reason. However, I think a few people hit the nail right on the head by mentioning the calling out of the name of Elbereth. Fear and doubt may be the most common weapons used by Sauron (and previously by Morgoth) but they also seem to be their most common weakness. I think the Nazgul and the Witch King were thoroughly scared having met resistance and hearing the name of Elbereth called out. I would point you to something in Silmarillion for comparison. When Fingolfin rides out and challenges Morgoth to a duel, he is hesitant to come out and fight the High King. Tolkien mentions that while Morgoth in many ways was the mightiest of the Valar, he alone of them knew fear. We can see that even Morgoth is doubtful of his abilities to fight a single Elf, however mighty he may be, and this doubt and hesitation comes because of the strength and audacity of the challenge thrown at him. I would argue that we are dealing with something similar in the attack on Weathertop. Sure, it's not a very practical reason, but it fits nicely with the rest of Tolkien's mythology.
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  22. #22

    Re: Question Re: the Shards of Narsil

    I believe the wraiths were slaves to Sauron's will and had very little of their own to make command decisions on the fly. They were told to go get the ring, not fight the powers of the Valar from the Undying West. Sauron was well aware of what the Valar were capable of having been a witness to the breaking of Thangorodrim in the First Age. There may have always been a nagging doubt in his mind that maybe one day the West would come against him as they did to Morgoth. If the Nazgul knew any of this from their mortal lives it would have been similar to our legends of Olympus except you knew it really did happen. Suddenly faced with a reminder of that power might shake their confidence enough to decide on retreat. In the books there are numerous examples of how, when things get tough, evil breaks and runs quickly while the valiant hold their ground and overcome. One more thought, anything from Valinor seems to hold great power in Middle-earth to heal, restore confidence and dispel evil and shadow. The hymn to Elbereth and Galadriel's Phial (which contained light from Earendils star, which came from one of the Silmarils, which contained light from the original two trees of light) are but two examples.
    "You can't fight the Enemy with his own Ring without turning into an Enemy" - J.R.R. Tolkien, Letter # 81



  23. #23
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    Re: Question Re: the Shards of Narsil

    Quote Originally Posted by Vilnas View Post
    The chief weapons of the Nazgul were fear and despair
    Our chief weapon is surprise...surprise and fear...fear and surprise.... Our two weapons are fear and surprise...and ruthless efficiency.... Our *three* weapons are fear, surprise, and ruthless efficiency...and an almost fanatical devotion to the Pope.... Our *four*...no... *Amongst* our weapons.... Amongst our weaponry...are such elements as fear, surprise.... I'll come in again.


    (Sorry, it was begging for it. )
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  24. #24
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    Re: Question Re: the Shards of Narsil

    Some really insightful comments on this very question can be found in the Tolkien Newsgroup FAQ, questions #2 (which deals with the power of Frodo's barrow-blade against the Nazgul) and especially #3 (which directly answers the question we have been debating).

    Obviously what is written there is still just opinion, but it includes comments from some of Tolkien's unpublished drafts of LoTR that are very interesting.
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  25. Re: Question Re: the Shards of Narsil

    Quote Originally Posted by MithrilSoul View Post
    Some really insightful comments on this very question can be found in the Tolkien Newsgroup FAQ, questions #2 (which deals with the power of Frodo's barrow-blade against the Nazgul) and especially #3 (which directly answers the question we have been debating).

    Obviously what is written there is still just opinion, but it includes comments from some of Tolkien's unpublished drafts of LoTR that are very interesting.
    Great link, Mithril. Thanks for it.

    And it appears that my memory of the events was almost spot on :-) Not that I'm bragging...


























    ...much.
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