By this Sword, I Rule! – Michael Martinez’ J.R.R. Tolkien and Middle-earth

by Aug 23, 2001Other News

“In Tolkien’s world, words are accompanied by actions. In Howard’s world, actions are accompanied by words. When the blodd-stained Kull breaks the stone tablets with the Valusia laws, he raises his axe above his head and cries out, “By this axe, I rule!” When Aragorn reveals his true heritage to Eomer and the Rohirrim, rattling off his list of names and titles, he whips out his sword and cries, ‘Here is the Sword that was Broken and is forged again!'”
In a comparison of Aragorn with barbarian hero archetypes, it becomes apparent that Tolkien appreciated the relationship between the energizing foreigner and the declining civilization as well as any pulp fiction author should have.

Here is an excerpt from Michael’s August 10th Suite101 article:

Robert E. Howard fans should recognize the echo of a Kull story in the sentence, “By this sword, I rule.” Howard liked to write about strong, brooding warriors. They might be men in the wild west of America, boxers in the ring, or naive barbarians thundering through the halls of civilizations so ancient even the citizens had forgotten their distant origins.

In some ways, Aragorn was a barbarian, at least from a Gondorian perspective. Although raised by Elrond in an Eldarin household, Aragorn was no city boy. And both his father and grandfather had been killed by creatures (Orcs, Trolls respectively) which most city-folk would flee from in abject terror.

Like Howard’s warrior-kings, Conan and Kull, Aragorn was descended of an “Atlantean” people. Kull was, in fact, an Atlantean, forced into exile. He and Conan left their barbarian peoples and raised themselves up to be kings. Aragorn also left his homeland (Eriador) and raised himself up to be king (of both Gondor and Arnor).

But there the resemblance ends, or becomes only superficial. Howard celebrated the raw, primitive strength of the uncorrupted barbarian. Tolkien celebrated the sophisticated wisdom derived from the decline and fall of several civilizations. But both writers conveyed a sense of power through their characters which evokes a symmetry of passion.

That passion heats the conflict of praise and ridicule. The characters are treated with great respect by some writers, and deep irritation and annoyance by others. Conan has been compared to cardboard drivel. Aragorn has been compared to a noble horse.

It is the barbarian aspect of each character which most intrigues the reader, and both Conan and Aragorn became archetypes or full stereotypes for action/adventure heroes and characters. They are primal characterizations because each in his own way achieves a sohistication which his predecessors lacked (Kull stories predate Conan stories by several years, and Aragorn owes something to Beren, who first appeared in Tolkien’s stories almost 20 years before Howard wrote his final Conan story).

Neither author lived long enough to see how his literary achievement would be directed toward the mass market, and I suppose that is a saving grace for each. Would they have been appalled to see bad actors scampering across rocky sets in cheap movie after cheap movie, hacking and slashing at rubber monsters or slavering over naked women who seem to only know how to scream?

Although the Kull/Conan mystique focuses on barbarian fury, Aragorn is the first Ranger. All Rangers are judged against him, and all trackers, too.

Please click on the link below to read the entire article.


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