Athelas

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The name Athelas refers to more than one character, item or concept. For a list of other meanings, see Athelas (disambiguation).
Athelas
"Athelas" by John Howe
"Athelas" by John Howe
Pronunciationath-eh-las
Other namesKingsfoil (W), asëa aranion (Q)
LocationNúmenor and the Westlands, especially where Dúnedain had passed
Notable forHealing properties against the Black Breath
GalleryImages of Athelas

Athelas, also known as Kingsfoil or asëa aranion, was a sweet-smelling herb with healing properties, such as curing wounds, poison and counteracting evil influence such as the Black Breath.

History[edit]

During the First Age athelas was perhaps growing in Beleriand. Huan had found athelas to heal Beren of his wounds.[1]

Athelas most notably grew on the island of Númenor and was brought to Middle-earth by the Númenóreans.[2] It grew sparsely in the North and only in places where the Men of Westernesse had camped or lived. By the end of the Third Age only the Rangers of the North retained the knowledge of its healing properties.

In Gondor (where it was known as Kingsfoil) its healing virtues were unknown and its leaves were esteemed only for their refreshing scent, but it was especially powerful in the hands of the Kings of Gondor, perhaps because of the Elvish heritage of the royal house.[3]

It was used by Aragorn on several occasions: healing Frodo from the Morgul wound,[2] tending the wounds of Frodo and Sam after the exit from Moria,[4] and, secretly entering Minas Tirith upon his return to Gondor, to heal those touched by the Black Breath, an act that enhanced his reputation and strengthened his claim to the crown.[3]

Properties and Effects[edit]

Athelas, when dried and crushed in hot water, is refreshing. It clears and calms[2] the minds of those who smell it. Athelas also strengthens[4] those smelling the scent. It has a particular scent that is either unique to the individual who smells the herb or influenced by the recipient of the herb's effects:

  • Faramir's scent is of "dewy mornings of unshadowed sun... [in which] Spring is itself but a fleeting memory."[3]
  • Ioreth smells the "roses of Imloth Melui" from her childhood.[3]
  • Éowyn smells no scent as if the air was clean, fresh and had never "been breathed by any living thing and came new-made from snowy mountains high beneath a dome of stars, or from shores of silver far away washed by seas of foam."[3]
  • Merry's smell is that of "orchards, and of heather in the sunshine full of bees."[3]

Etymology[edit]

Athelas is a Sindarin word, consisting of athae + lass.[5]

The Quenya cognate is asëa aranion ("asëa of the Kings").[5] It has been suggested that the whole name could mean "Beneficial (leaf) of Kings".[6][7] The rejected form asea aranaite was used in a manuscript version of The Lord of the Rings.[8]

Kingsfoil has the Old French element foil, "leaf" as seen in cinquefoil.[9]

Other versions of the legendarium[edit]

Athelas doesn't appear in the published Silmarillion or in the tales of the First Age in general; however in the early Lay of Leithian it was used by Huan and Lúthien to heal the wounded Beren.[1] This contradicts the information from The Lord of the Rings of it being brought to Middle-earth by Númenóreans,[2] so its history was either revised by Tolkien, or athelas grew in Beleriand before it was destroyed, and then brought back to Middle-earth by Númenóreans in the Second Age.

Appearances outside the legendarium[edit]

Kingsfoil is also mentioned in Ursula K. Le Guin's A Wizard of Earthsea, as one of the herbs in the witch of Gont's hut.[10]

Athelas is also mentioned in the game Quest for Glory.

References