Healing Magic and Lore in The Lord of the Rings
The Lord of the Rings studies are a hobby that bridges the discipline of scholarship and the passions of fandom.
This lens focuses on "Healing in Middle-Earth," examining healing techniques, magic and items in that fictional world, based on excerpts from Tolkien's writings. My aim is to provide a resource for fanfiction writers and roleplayers trying to bring the world of Middle-Earth to life.
This study was inspired by and written for fellow lore-lovers on the Lord of the Rings Fanatics Plaza online community.
Healing in Middle-Earth
The following is a complete list of ALL examples of healing in Tolkien's writing. I have tried to rearrange the quotes into related topics (unlike my earlier version, which was posted in the order I found them), and I have included careful analysis of each example, trying to uncover what we can learn about healing techniques in Middle-earth, and, in particular, healing techniques that probably would have been used by Elves.
A note about Aragorn. He was Elrond's foster-son, trained by him, and therefore his healing techniques would have largely derived from Elrond. I doubt that he and his Rangers would have possessed much healing lore that their friends the Elves lacked, whereas the Elves surely had abilities and skills the Rangers lacked. Therefore I think it is safe to assume that Elves, or at least the Elves of Rivendell, could do most of what Aragorn did. His curing of the Black Breath may be an exception since that was supposed to be unique to the line of Kings.
"I Nestad In-Edhil"
Want the IC (In Character) version? Tinw's got a scroll in the Imladris library, The Healing Art of the Eldar, written in the same manner as Bilbo's notes and jottings on Elves.
Who Can Heal?
A survey of known healers in Middle-Earth
The patron Valië of healing is Estë. Rest is closely connected with her art:Irmo the younger is the master of visions and dreams. In Lórien are his gardens in the land of the Valar, and they are the fairest of all places in the world, filled with many spirits. Estë the gentle, healer of hurts and of weariness, is his spouse. Grey is her raiment; and rest is her gift. ~ (Of the Valar, Silmarillion)
See several examples under "case studies". Lúthien is unique in having both Elf and Maia blood, so her powers are special. Some of these may have been transferred to her descendants.
Beleg Cúthalion, Grey-elf of the First Age
See examples under self-healing.
Mablung, Grey-elf of the First Age
'We too are Edain, and bound by many ties to your people. Your name has long been held in honour here; but no news of your deeds would have reached us, if Haldir and Hundar had not marched to the Nirnaeth. There they fell, but three of their company returned, for they were succoured by Mablung of Doriath and healed of their wounds. ~ (The Wanderings of Húrin, War of the Jewels)
Glorfindel, High-elf of the First Age
See Frodo’s Morgul-knife wound. He is a legendary warrior.
Aragorn, Elrond, sons of Elrond
Since Aragorn is a main character, we hear more about his healing exploits. We also know that Elrond is a great healer: the healing of Frodo is the only example of this, but Aragorn and Gandalf both say so. The sons of Elrond have some of their father's art. At the doors of the Houses many were already gathered to see Aragorn, and they followed after him; and when at last he had supped, men came and prayed that he would heal their kinsmen or their friends whose lives were in peril through hurt or wound, or who lay under the Black Shadow. And Aragorn arose and went out, and he sent for the sons of Elrond, and together they laboured far into the night. And word went through the City: 'The King is come again indeed.' And they named him Elfstone, because of the green stone that he wore, and so the name which it was foretold at his birth that he should bear was chosen for him by his own people.
And when he could labour no more, he cast his cloak about him, and slipped out of the City, and went to his tent just ere dawn and slept for a little. ~ (The House of Healing, ROTK)
Túrin, a ManThen entering softly Túrin stood behind Mîm, and spoke to him. "What is the trouble, Mîm?' " he said. "I have some healing arts. Can I give you aid?" ~ (Narn i Hîn Húrin, UT)(Brandir of the Haladin is also repeatedly referred to as a healer, tending both Túrin and Níniel)
Melian the Maia
So Thingol's thanes athirst and bleeding
in the forest found him: his fate willed not
that he should drink the draught of death from foes.
Thus they bore him back in bitter torment
his tidings to tell in the torchlit halls
of Thingol the king; in the Thousand Caves
to be healed whole by the hands enchanted
of Melian Mablui, the moonlit queen.
Ere a week was outworn his wounds were cured,
but his heart's heaviness those hands of snow
nor soothed nor softened, and sorrow-laden
he fared to the forest. 725ff, (Túrin son of Húrin, Lays of Beleriand)She heals his body quickly, but not his spirit. (Melian also heals him in the "Sketch of the Mythology", SME, and in Annals of Beleriand, LR, but later versions of this story say Beleg healed himself).
Gandalf, a MaiaAs a matter of fact Gandalf, who had often been in the mountains, had once rendered a service to the eagles and healed their lord from an arrow-wound. ~ (Out of the Frying Pan into the Fire, The Hobbit)This is physical healing. Gandalf heals the spirit. He never touches Théoden; he only speaks encouragement to help him find his own strength instead of leaning on others. Théoden is severely depressed, but not possessed, in the original text. 'And you, lady, leave him a while with me. I will care for him.'
Go, Éowyn sister-daughter!' said the old king. 'The time for fear is past.'
Now, lord,' said Gandalf, 'look out upon your land! Breathe the free air again!'
[description of the view]
'It is not so dark here,' said Théoden.
No,' said Gandalf. 'Nor does age lie so heavily on your shoulders as some would have you think. Cast aside your prop!'And so on. Later, when Gandalf advises Théoden to seek shelter at Dunharrow: 'Nay, Gandalf!' said the king. 'You do not know your own skill in healing. It shall not be so. I myself will go to war, to fall in the front of the battle, if it must be. Thus shall I sleep better.' ~ (The King of the Golden Hall, TTT)
They originally learned many of their arts and skills from the Elves, although doubtless they had their own knowledge and wisdom too. So at last Faramir and Éowyn and Meriadoc were laid in beds in the Houses of Healing; and there they were tended well. 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. Save old age only. For that they had found no cure; and indeed the span of their lives had now waned to little more than that of other men, and those among them who passed the tale of five score years with vigour were grown few, save in some houses of purer blood. But now their art and knowledge were baffled; for there were many sick of a malady that would not be healed; and they called it the Black Shadow, for it came from the Nazgûl. And those who were stricken with it fell slowly into an ever deeper dream, and then passed to silence and a deadly cold, and so died. And it seemed to the tenders of the sick that on the Halfling and on the Lady of Rohan this malady lay heavily. Still at whiles as the morning wore away they would speak, murmuring in their dreams; and the watchers listened to all that they said, hoping perhaps to learn something that would help them to understand their hurts. ~ (The Houses of Healing, ROTK)Note that "art/skill" and "knowledge" are both mentioned -- that is, appplied technique or power, and medical lore. When trying to heal an unknown injury, healers attempt to gain understanding by listening closely to patients.
Uglúk thrust a flask between his teeth and poured some burning liquid down his throat: he felt a hot fierce glow flow through him. The pain in his legs and ankles vanished. He could stand.
'Now for the other!' said Uglúk. Pippin saw him go to Merry, who was lying close by, and kick him. Merry groaned. Seizing him roughly Uglúk pulled him into a sitting position, and tore the bandage off his head. Then he smeared the wound with some dark stuff out of a small wooden box. [...]He was healing Merry in orc-fashion; and his treatment worked swiftly. When he had forced a drink from his flask down the hobbit's throat, cut his leg-bonds, and dragged him to his feet, Merry stood up, looking pale but grim and defiant, and very much alive. The gash in his forehead gave him no more trouble, but he bore a brown scar to the end of his days. ~ (The Uruk-hai, TTT)Orc-healing is brutally efficient, relying on physical aids, not treating the spirit. It leaves scars, showing that the healing is imperfect. It also temporarily restores bodily strength.
Warriors As Healers - Or Not?
Male vs. Female Elves: Division of Labor
There are indeed some differences between the natural inclinations of neri and nissi, and other differences that have been established by custom (varying in place and in time, and in the several races of the Eldar). For instance, the arts of healing, and all that touches on the care of the body, are among all the Eldar most practised by the nissi; whereas it was the elven-men who bore arms at need. And the Eldar deemed that the dealing of death, even when lawful or under necessity, diminished the power of healing, and that the virtue of the nissi in this matter was due rather to their abstaining from hunting or war than to any special power that went with their womanhood. Indeed in dire straits or desperate defence, the nissi fought valiantly, and there was less difference in strength and speed between elven-men and elven-women that had not borne child than is seen among mortals. On the other hand many elven-men were great healers and skilled in the lore of living bodies, though such men abstained from hunting, and went not to war until the last need. ~ (Of the Laws and Customs Among the Eldar, Morgoth's Ring)
This was written very late in Tolkien's life. Unfortunately, it contradicts established canon. Glorfindel had a healing touch. Elrond is a powerful healer. Beleg Cúthalion is said to be an exceptional healer, and he is a hunter and marchwarden. Mablung is a warrior. Aragorn is a great fighter. So nearly all the healers in the histories are warriors.
There is really no way to reconcile the apparent contradiction, save for the fact that the passage says, "the Eldar deemed that the dealing of death...diminished the power of healing". Perhaps they were mistaken, and it was just a custom. Perhaps most warriors didn't study the art of healing, so after a while it became traditional for them not to be healers, and people began assuming there was some reason why they couldn’t be. Or perhaps most warriors really and truly were not good healers, with some rare exceptions. But the most plausible explanation is that Tolkien was trying to explain and set up a rational system of magic, many years after the fact, and wasn’t quite managing to fit what he had actually written in his stories.
And Powers of Endurance
There are many documented examples of Elves surviving wounds which would kill humans, or exhibiting remarkable powers and speed of healing and recovery. This is most true of the early Elves of the First Age, and of the Noldor, the High-elves, who are said to have greater power.
Maedhros, a Noldo
Again therefore in his pain Maedhros begged that he would slay him; but Fingon cut off his hand above the wrist, and Thorondor bore them back to Mithrim.
There Maedhros in time was healed; for the fire of life was hot within him, and his strength was of the ancient world, such as those possessed who were nurtured in Valinor. His body recovered from his torment and became hale, but the shadow of his pain was in his heart; and he lived to wield his sword with left hand more deadly than his right had been. ~ (Of the Return of the Noldor, Silmarillion)
Beleg, a Grey-elf
Now Beleg was sorely wounded, but he was mighty among the Elves of Middle-earth, and he was moreover a master of healing. Therefore he did not die, and slowly his strength returned ~ (Of Túrin Turambar, Silmarillion)
In the morning Beleg, being swiftly healed of his pains, after the manner of the Elven-folk of old, spoke to Túrin apart. ~ (Narn i Hîn Húrin, UT)
Now was it that it came into the heart of Beleg the hunter of the Elves to seek after Turin so soon as his own hurts were healed. This being done in no great number of days, for he had a skill of healing... ~ ITurambar and the Foaloke, BOLT2)