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Old 02-20-2005, 03:17 PM   #1
A_Brandybuck
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Illnesses in Middle-Earth

While I was searching through some family trees of the Shire, I noticed that there were not many "early deaths" in the diagrammed families. Even by other races or families seems it, that all persons can live very long, save he/she was killed. I started to make some thoughts about this topic and the related topics.
Does there are no bad illnesses in Middle-Earth or does the illnesses are only not reported, whether good-natured or bad-natured?

This seems to me a good question: Here are my thoughts, free to discuss.
For the good good-natured illnesses, I could find at least the little cold, which Bilbo had in Esgaroth. But also a cold seems to be very rare in Middle-Earth. There is i.e. no mention of a cold, when the Fellowship come down the Caradhras.

Quote:
Originally Posted by FOTR
he banquet was very splendid, however, though I had a bad cold at the time, I remember, and could only say 'thag you very buch'. I now repeat it more correctly
Was the population of Middle-Earth more resistent against illnesses or does there are only few bacteria?

For the bad-natured illnesses , I could find the "Great Plague" an evil epidemic, which came over the lands of Middle-Earth. It is comparable to our "black death", I think.

The mentioning of Tolkien, that Elves could not suffer under illnesses, implies that it must give more than these.

But we can exclude the Elves in our argumentation.
Save from the question, whether the static consumption of alcoholic drinks like wine could harm an Elf? ( I allude here to Thranduil) ;-)
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Old 02-20-2005, 03:41 PM   #2
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Hmm interesting points. The existence of the houses of healing suggests that there were illnesses - unless they mean healing from injuries only rather than from illness. Given that elves don't get ill and are more injury resistant than men , I always wondered how Elrond got quite so much skill in healing ... but of course he had a lot of non-elf visitors.

I suspect that, in general illness, is linked partially to moral/spiritual decline and that is why in those societies which lead simple, healthy lives, illness is rare. I think somewhere it says that the Numenoreans were less afflicted by illness thatn lesser men but I will check this, Illness in LOTR often emanates from the enemy directly - eg the black breath, or indirectly. Finduilas who is one of the few to die young but not from violence, was "filled with horror" by the shadow of the east. Gilraen also dies it seems from despair in the face of the Shadow.

Will do some research...
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Old 02-20-2005, 08:04 PM   #3
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Question

Hmm.
And recall The Great Plague in the Third Age which came from the southeast.
Did it affect elves and/or dwarves? Were there other plagues? Did Sauron
send or abet plagues? How about Morgoth?
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Old 02-21-2005, 02:25 AM   #4
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White Tree Helpful link

This thread has a little discussion on the low occurrence of early death of any kind among hobbits (I believe mostly on the second page).

I believe, not really a "pathogen" per se, but the elves have a sort of sickness of soul that sends them to Mandos or at the least to Valinor as much as anything else (Miriel, Celebrian). I don't think they were susceptible to death by physical illness though.

I don't know a lot about illnesses in other races, but it's an interesting topic.

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Old 02-21-2005, 07:38 AM   #5
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Pipe

Elves' immunity to disease does seem to me to be somewhat problematic.

We know that Elves can be affected, and killed, by physical damage. All diseases work by inflicting some kind of physical damage on the sufferer. It might be argued that a distinction may be made between external trauma (such as that inflicted by a weapon) and internal trauma (such as that inflicted by disease), yet Elves are affected, and can be killed, by poison (cf Celebrian and Aredhel), which, like disease, works by inflicting internal trauma.

The only explanation that I can come up with is that Elves had a highly developed immune system. Their vulnerability to poison, however, mitigates against this too. And if one were to speculate that the poison needed to render damage to an Elf would have to be particularly potent, would that not open them up to the possibility of being affected by a particularly virulent disease?

On different note, I have always thought it rather ironic that Elves, being the only race that do not seem to indulge in the pipeweed habit (cf Legolas' views on the habit at Isengard), are also the only race that would be immune to its potentially harmful consequences. Then again, there seem to be no recorded instances of pipeweed-related deaths in Middle-earth and the healthy lifespan of most Hobbits would seem to suggest that pipweed in Middle-earth has somewhat less potentially harmful consequences than its real-life counterparts.
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Old 02-21-2005, 09:29 AM   #6
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1420!

I don't know if much is actually said on colds, viruses, or diseases. However, there is a bunch of what SpM calls, external diseases. Sort of a form of biological warfare, the use of poisoned arrows (Faramir and Gwaihir), the morgul blades, the Wraiths' "black breath," all have some sort of power to inflict sickness on people.

We can tell from the use of herbs (Athelas), Elrond and Gandalf both heal people, the Houses of Healing, that their could be some sort of internal disease(s) in Middle-earth. However, anytime we see these circumstances of the HoH, Elrond, Gandalf...athelas, it is used to heal an external disease caused by a poisoned dart, or magical sword.
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Old 02-21-2005, 11:42 AM   #7
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Many of the Noldor of Fingolfin's host perished while crossing the Helcaraxe. Although details of their deaths are not provided, one might assume that the treacherous crossing caused some Elves to die from sickness related to being exposed to severe weather conditions.
For myself I have always assumed that the Elves are not subject to sickness because it is told in the Sil that "the Elves die not until the world dies, unless they are slain or waste in grief (and to both these seeming deaths they are subject), neither does age subdue their strength, unless one grow weary of ten thousand centuries. and dying they are gathered to the halls of Mandos in Valinor, whence they may in time return.
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Old 02-21-2005, 12:26 PM   #8
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Interesting speculation. We do have the author's word that hobbits are subject to illness. See this passage from the Grey Havens chapter where Tolkien describes the wonderful period of peace and prosperity that followed the War of the Ring. The italics are mine...

Quote:
Altogether 1420 in the Shire was a marvellous year. Not only was there wonderful sunshine and delicious rain, in due times and perfect measure, but there seemed something more: an air of richness and growth, and a gleam of a beauty beyond that of mortal summers that flicker and pass upon this Middle-earth. All the children born or begotten in that year, and there were many, were fair to see and strong, and most of them had a rich golden hair that had before been rare among hobbits. The fruit was so plentiful that young hobbits very nearly bathed in strawberries and cream; and later they sat on the lawns under the plum-trees and ate, until they had made piles of stones like small pyramids or the heaped skulls of a conqueror, and then they moved on. And no one was ill, and everyone was pleased, except those who had to mow the grass.
If Tolkien thought it was important to mention there was no illness in this era, we can assume that there must normally have been illness. It's true that hobbits lived extraordinarily long lives. We see no explicit mention, for example, of infant death. Yet the Brandybuck geneology does list two names with no descendents and no dates of birth of death given. And there are a number of names in the Samwise tree that show a birthdate but no descendents and no death date. Some of these are Sam's children but some appear much earlier in the family tree so they wouldn't have been alive when the Red Book was written. Did all of these folk marry and live long lives? We can't be sure since Tolkien gives us information on only a few of these individuals. It's possible that some fell prey to illness. And, even within the chronology, some did die at a "younger" age....witness Bungo Baggins who expired at 80 leaving Bilbo an "orphan" when he was 36. Illness could have played a part in such deaths but simply isn't mentioned.
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Old 02-21-2005, 12:27 PM   #9
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This ties in to questions that have occured to me over the time. I can accept that elves may be a lot tougher than men and will recover from wounds that would be fatal to men, partly because of the different balance between their souls and bodies, but maybe they could say bleed to death but would be immune from infection? However, it seems clear that since elves were lost both in the Helcaraxe and in the ice bay of Forochel, they must be able to drown (cf Amroth also) or die of exposure in extreme conditions. However if I remember correctly, Maedhros, expected to be on Thangorodrim forever ... so can you starve an elf to death (don't try that at home children )?

More generally, the one case I can think of of a woman dying in childbirth, is Theoden's wife Elfhild. Given the high maternal mortality rates in the west until the 1930s and existant in the developing world, this seems surprising. Of course because things are not mentioned, it does not mean they did not happen and so this may be in the category of " things that are not documented because they could have reasonably assumed to have happened". Or thsi was an aspect of Middle Earth that was different to out own world and Elfhild was peculiarly unlucky. As was her sister-in law Theodwyn who died of a sickness, which nevertheless spared her children.

It is possible that these deaths are plot devices rather than representative examples of the health of the populations of Middle Earth, but I can't help noticing that it is the women of the "middle men", who die from mundane causes while the dunedain women are too noble to do anything so vulgar and have to die of grief in Eldar fashion.
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Old 02-21-2005, 12:51 PM   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Mithalwen
However if I remember correctly, Maedhros, expected to be on Thangorodrim forever ... so can you starve an elf to death (don't try that at home children )?
Oh yes, this is possible. Also an Elf can starve to death. Voronwë mentioned this while talking to Tuor. But he said also, that they need a long time without food, before they would die.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Unfinished Tales, Of Tuor and his coming to Gondolin
But Voronwë would answer nothing clearly concerning the road. "You know the strength of Men," he said. "As for me, I am of the Noldor, and long must be the hunger and cold the winter that shall slay the kin of those who passed the Grinding Ice. Yet how think you that we could labour countless days in the salt wastes of the sea? Or have you not heard of the way-bread of the Elves? And I keep still that which all mariners hold until the last." Then he showed beneath his cloak a sealed wallet clasped upon his belt. "No water nor weather will harm it while it is sealed. But we must husband it until great need; and doubtless an outlaw and hunter may find other food ere the year worsens.
Voronwë's words let also imply, that Elves could freeze to death and that both happened in the voyage over the Helcaraxe.
btw. Does there are a mention how Turgon's wife lost her life in the Grinding Ice? Or a hint?
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Old 02-21-2005, 01:10 PM   #11
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Quote:
Originally Posted by A_Brandybuck
Oh yes, this is possible. Also an Elf can starve to death. Voronwë mentioned this while talking to Tuor. But he said also, that they need a long time without food, before they would die.



Voronwë's words let also imply, that Elves could freeze to death and that both happened in the voyage over the Helcaraxe.
btw. Does there are a mention how Turgon's wife lost her life in the Grinding Ice? Or a hint?

Oh, thank you, I was looking at UT tody .. but not that bit
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Old 02-21-2005, 02:24 PM   #12
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Quote:
Originally Posted by The Saucepan Man
Elves' immunity to disease does seem to me to be somewhat problematic.

We know that Elves can be affected, and killed, by physical damage. All diseases work by inflicting some kind of physical damage on the sufferer.
Assume that the bacteria and viruses are species-specific (i.e. Canine viruses don't affect humans) so the 'bugs' have no way to propagate in the elves' bodies. You need to get 'it' from someone, and if the elves don't have their own diseases and can't get them from any other species...but humans and elves can pair, so...hmmm (See final comment).

Also assume that even when elves get a bug, their regenerative abilities outdo whatever damage is done more quickly than would be possible in a human. Their 'clean living' allows them to appear normal as the disease runs its natural course.

And people always associate 'cold weather' as a causal agent when it's the stress of the same that opens you up for the bugs - that and that when it's cold you're in closer proximity to others who are also stressed. I think that the 'cold' that killed the Elves on their journey Westward was physical - smashed by ice, drowned, etc.

Not that I've put too much thought to this as what I've always liked about fantasy is that during the whole trip from Bag End to the Crack of Doom and back no one *ever* has to stop for 'relief.'
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Old 02-26-2005, 03:21 PM   #13
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In The Houses of the Healing chapter, the herb-master enters and while talking to Aragorn about kingsfoil and athelas he says: "But alas! sir, we do not keep this thing in the Houses of the Healing, where only the gravely hurt or sick are tended."

For me, this explicitly shows that serious sicknesses indeed existed (in paralell to getting hurt).

And let's not forget that King Aragorn had healing knowledge/powers as well probably to cure both the ill and the hurt.
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Old 02-27-2005, 06:59 AM   #14
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... and there's more:
Excerpt from The Pyre of Denethor chapter:
"... they went towards the Houses of the Healing; and these were fair houses set apart for the care of those who were grievously sick, but now they were prepared for the tending of men hurt in battle or dying."
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Old 02-27-2005, 04:40 PM   #15
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I would assume that were Elves to get so sick that they died, they would be 'reborn', as they cannot leave the circles of the world. Perhaps given this, there is little need to mention sickness as happening to them. I think more information on this can be found in Morgoth's Ring which explains the 'rebirth' concept extensively.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Mithalwen
It is possible that these deaths are plot devices rather than representative examples of the health of the populations of Middle Earth
I think this could indeed be the case, as illness is so rarely mentioned throughout the books except where it does drive the plot. With the sickness of Faramir, Eowyn and Merry it certainly does drive the plot along, particularly as it is in the Houses of Healing that the former two meet. And there are surprisingly few deaths of major characters in comparison to 'real world' war. Though, we simply do not know what happened to the milieu of ordinary peoples in Middle Earth and why they did or did not get sick and die. It reminds me of the question posed not that long ago as to why there seemed to be no graveyards in The Shire.

Quote:
Originally Posted by SpM
On different note, I have always thought it rather ironic that Elves, being the only race that do not seem to indulge in the pipeweed habit (cf Legolas' views on the habit at Isengard), are also the only race that would be immune to its potentially harmful consequences. Then again, there seem to be no recorded instances of pipeweed-related deaths in Middle-earth and the healthy lifespan of most Hobbits would seem to suggest that pipweed in Middle-earth has somewhat less potentially harmful consequences than its real-life counterparts.
This has made me laugh! Perhaps it is why Gandalf was such a keen smoker; after all, did he know that it could not kill him? He certainly seems to have retained the habit even after his fall and rebirth. Or perhaps Pipeweed is that elusive non-harmful type of tobacco that some of us dream about? Or, like Bill Clinton, did they just not inhale?
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Old 02-28-2005, 07:58 AM   #16
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And while describing the Houses of Healing (LotR: RotK) it's told that gondorians had cure to every sickness/disease except the Black Breath and dying because of old age. (I couldn't quote that, because I don't have the book in english... )
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