Curses of Blood in The Lord of the Rings

"Sauron: War of the Last Alliance" | Art by Matt DeMino. Used with permission.
Middle-earth is a bloody place.

The generational struggles of elves in the First Age, the War of the Ring, and even the adventures of a certain handkerchief-less burglar are all bloody stuff. Blood isn’t just for wetting swords, though; blood tells us something about who we are. But it doesn’t have the final word on who we’ll be.

Middle-earth holds two tales that reveal the powerful pull of blood.

In the First Age of Middle-earth, the elven prince Fëanor created jewels of unsurpassed beauty called the Silmarils. Fëanor was the greatest of the elves; he was exceedingly beautiful and unsurpassed in skill and understanding—he knew it, too. It was his pride that drove him to swear an irrational oath of vengeance against anyone who withheld the Silmarils from him after Morgoth, the dark enemy of the elves, stole the Silmarils and murdered Fëanor’s father. But the burden of blood tends to outlive its source; Fëanor’s sons nursed their own pride and took up the oath as the mantle of their house, following their father to war:

“They swore an oath which none shall break, and none should take, by the name even of Ilúvatar, calling the Everlasting Dark upon them if they kept it not . . . vowing to pursue with vengeance and hatred to the ends of the World Vala, Demon, Elf or Man as yet unborn or any creature, great or small, good or evil, that time should bring forth unto the end of days, whoso should hold or take or keep a Silmaril from their possession.” (The Quenta Silmarillion.)

Pride was the weakness in Fëanor’s blood, first exploited by the subtleties of Morgoth and then passed on to Fëanor’s sons. When pride demands its right and blood is spilled, a cycle of vengeance begins. This isn’t simply a magical invention of Tolkien’s, it’s also the biblical story of the fall of humanity—it’s a curse humankind lives with. But like Adam and Eve, Fëanor and his sons brought the curse on themselves.

The curse now invoked, Fëanor leads a host of willing elves out of their blessed land and kills other elves in his pursuit of Morgoth. They bring the battle to Morgoth’s stronghold in Middle-earth where Fëanor completes his fall. He breaks ranks and charges his enemy with overconfidence. Cut off from support, Fëanor is surrounded by balrogs and dies, but his folly is carried on by his sons. Fëanor’s blood—with its weakness—continues. His curse consumes both him and his family, causing suffering not only for them but those around them.

While this tale falls from grace into darkness, there is still hope to be found in Middle-earth. Ages later, a more familiar character must struggle against cursed blood passed on from his forbearer.

Aragorn is Isildur’s heir and the rightful king of Gondor. He ran from his birthright for years, ran from who he was because of who he came from. The films present a telling exchange between Arwen and Aragorn, where she reminds him: “You are Isildur’s heir, not Isildur himself. You are not bound to his fate.” Aragorn responds: “The same blood flows in my veins. The same weakness.”

This isn’t pessimism; it is true knowledge of self. Aragorn feels the same temptations of power that Isildur did when he kept the ring for himself instead of destroying it.

The path of Fëanor and his sons was to double down on the pride which brought on the curse in the first place. Aragorn’s path takes a more unexpected turn and demonstrates that blood needn’t decide who we’ll become.

Aragorn’s recognition of his weakness gives him the humility to succeed.

Where Fëanor led an army across the sea, kin-slaying along the way, Aragorn elects to serve in the Fellowship of the Ring. In the drama during the War of the Ring, he submits himself to a will other than his own and faithfully acts as rearguard until the fall of Gandalf thrusts him into leadership.

Fëanor swears vengeance, but Aragorn forswears his life to protect the Ring and, more importantly, the ringbearer. Aragorn’s recognition of his weakness gives him the humility to succeed where other bearers of this curse fail. Like Gandalf, Aragorn says I dare not when faced with the Ring’s tempting offer of deliverance because he knows his own weakness.

Both Fëanor and Aragorn, curse-bearers, fulfill their oaths at the very gates of a Dark Lord. Blinded by his pride, Fëanor rides out in a vainglorious charge where he is overcome by his confidence as much as by the balrogs.

Aragorn’s march on the Black Gate of Mordor appears equally vainglorious at first glance, but that’s the point. Morgoth’s successor, Sauron, thinks Aragorn is just another arrogant human marching to his death. In doing so, Sauron is undone by his own pride and lust for power. With no hope of victory through his own might, the king stands willing to give up his life for the only hope he has: that embracing weakness will finally break the deadly cycle of pride and power.

If Aragorn is strong, it is only because he recognized how weak he truly was and placed his hope outside himself. Acknowledging that he is not the hero of his own story is a hard lesson, but one that breaks curses.

Matt Civico

Matt Civico

Staff Writer at Area of Effect
Matt is doing his best to prize food and cheer and song above hoarded gold; the price of books helps a lot. He lives next to “the hill” in Montreal where he teaches ESL and sometimes speaks French. He studied history and journalism and discovered only one allowed for second breakfasts, but the writing thing stuck. His bookshelves are full of board games, epic poetry, and Star Wars figurines.
Matt Civico