One topic we briefly touched on that I feel deserves some more attention is the significance of being a healer. Throughout Tolkien’s works, we see numerous examples of characters acting as healers on several different levels. Before discussing these scenes in more depth, what exactly does being a healer mean? The word heal comes from the Proto-Germanic word “hailjan” which means “to make whole.” As a result, a healer is one that makes things whole again. When one begins to think of a healer in this way, rather than simply one who heals a sickness, a greater depth behind this role is revealed. This definition also implies that in order for healers to exist, something needs to be broken or rather no longer be completely whole. In LOTR, each character is affected by this condition in both a personal and private manner. On a large scale, everybody is working together in order to restore peace to Middle-Earth and in order to achieve this goal, each character becomes a healer in his or her own unique way.
A similar topic that we discussed is what is a hero? If we look to a dictionary definition, a hero is “a person who is admired or idealized for courage, outstanding achievements, or noble qualities.” However, I do not think that this is the complete definition that Tolkien had in mind. His characters seem to have an additional aspect rather than simply completing a task or quest in order to obtain glory. Rather, the heroes Tolkien envisioned are actually all healers; each one displays courage, has noble qualities, and accomplishes outstanding achievements in order to make Middle-Earth whole again. In order to see this more fully, we need to look past the traditional picture that comes to mind when thinking about healing.
It is obvious that Aragorn is a healer because he fulfills the old lore about possessing the hands of a healer in addition to healing other various wounds such as Frodo’s injury on Weathertop (LOTR 862, 197). However, he is a healer on a different level as well. Aragorn helps to make Gondor whole again after he assumes his position as king. Being the healer of a kingdom is not nearly as evident as being the healer of wounds. Éowyn contributes to the cause by stepping out of the role that has been designated to her and ends up being the only one capable of killing the Nazgûl (842). By eliminating such an imposing threat, Éowyn helps to restore order to the great battle and becomes a healer in her own right. Sam is also one of the greatest healers and heroes throughout the LOTR. Obviously Sam plays an enormous role in aiding Frodo in the journey to destroy the Ring, therefore healing Middle-Earth, but he also makes the Shire whole again, which was the ultimate goal for the Hobbits. He is in charge of replanting all of the trees and gardens in addition to reshaping laws and policies as mayor (1023). Frodo accomplishes the most significant task towards making Middle-Earth whole again by carrying the burden of the Ring all the way to Mt. Doom. Even though Frodo did not physically destroy the Ring himself, it never would have made it to that point without him and all of Middle-Earth would not have had hope to being restored again. Merry is a healer in very subtle ways throughout the story. As Zimmer Bradley points out, Merry is responsible for making the entire journey possible by readying the ponies, gathering supplies, and developing plans (Zimmer Bradley 79). By performing these functions, Merry is continually making the group whole and therefore being an effective healer. Finally, while we do not see Pippen performing feats quite on the same level as the healers above, he still plays a part in making the Shire whole once again. Pippen also helps to make relationships whole again by swearing fealty to Denethor in order to make up for Boromir’s death as well as proving to Gandalf that he has indeed grown up since they first set out from the Shire (LOTR 756).
As is evident in all of these examples, each character demonstrates courage in their own way on their journey to accomplishing a numerous amount of noble tasks, making each one a hero. These deeds are accomplished through various acts of healing on many different levels, making each one a healer as well. However, I think a distinction between being a hero and being a healer must be made. A hero is a subset of healers, meaning that all heroes are healers but not all healers are heroes. There are plenty of instances where a healer is needed but they are not necessarily heroes. For example, the herb-master in the House of Healing can make injuries and illnesses whole again, but he is not considered a hero (LOTR 865). On the other hand, somebody is recognized as a hero because they accomplish a particular feat in a time of disarray. There is no need for a hero to come forth if everything is already whole and perfect. The hero’s quest is then to restore everything that is out of place and make them whole again; therefore they become heroes because they were great healers. However, what is the underlying motivation causing these characters to become healers?
Ultimately, each hero within Tolkien’s universe is motivated by love. Whether it is a particular person, place, story, or any other material product, each character is fighting for what they love; they want to keep these things as whole as possible. As a result, it appears as though the main element Tolkien instills in each of his characters is unconditional love. This love is pushing each character into the role of a healer since that is what they must be if they want to keep everything preserved. Once each character becomes a healer, they tend to accomplish great deeds and therefore become heroes because if they were to fail on these quests, then they risk losing that which they love. Therefore each character summons up enough courage to become a hero and ultimate make whole again those things that they love.
One last point is that Tolkien created such a diverse group of characters that work together in order to accomplish these epic feats of healing. Through all of these physical differences and the tasks each must complete, it appears as though Tolkien is attempting to send a subtle message to his readers. These characters demonstrate that anyone is capable of becoming a healer and possibly even a hero if they truly possess unconditional love for something. In other words, everyone can be become a hero when healing that which they love.
Marion Zimmer Bradley, “Men, Halflings, and Hero Worship,” in Understanding The Lord of the Rings, eds. Zimbardo and Isaacs, pp. 76-92.
J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2004)