Thranduil and the Fisher King: A Need for Healing

I thought the most interesting part of Marthe’s article was the speculation that Thranduil is in need of healing. The Fisher King is eternally injured, sometimes through others’ actions, sometimes through his own carelessness. Is Thranduil injured? Within the confines of The Hobbit as a book, no. In Tolkien’s larger universe, yes.

Thranduil saw his father killed due to his own mistake in the Battle of Dagorlad. Though insulated from some trauma due to Doriath’s isolation, he lived through the wars for the Silmarils, strife over Nauglamír, the fall of Doriath, the doom of the Noldor, the Last Alliance and the death of Gil-galad with the elves of Lindon. He has seen the devastating effects of greed. Though Peter Jackson doesn’t have the copyrights to much of this material, it will not be difficult to construct a painful past for Thranduil. In the films, Thranduil has clearly been traumatized by encounters with dragons, evidenced by burns on his face. Whether his burns are real or illusion is unknown, but he was scarred by a specific event. Whether the trauma is physical or spiritual, the wisdom of the Elves cannot heal Thranduil.

One aspect common to most versions of the Fisher King is that he has lost everything but his life. He has an injury to the leg that cripples him—he cannot move under his own power, nor will his injury heal. He cannot, or will not, govern his land. Thranduil is not physically handicapped, but his encounters brought about a xenophobia that is detrimental to his kingdom. He too cannot move, so he falls back on the isolationism he learned from Thingol.

The Fisher King and Thranduil are both diminished kings. Thranduil’s people are the offspring of the Sindar and the Laiquendi, but he himself is Sindarin, a remnant of Doriath and the First Age. While he chose his people and his position, he has fallen from the state of old. Tolkien wrote that the Wood-elves were, compared to other elves, more dangerous, less wise, less learned, less fair, less skilled in magic, and less cunning, though despite this, still elves [1] and still formidable. Thranduil makes clear that Legolas is above the Wood-elves and thus is too good to marry one of them. It appears that Thranduil could want to restore his position of old.

Another similarity between Thranduil and the Fisher King is that they are both immortal. The Fisher King has developed from various Celtic gods, but he is “a poor bewitched and suffering king; the only divine feature he has preserved, namely his immortality, merely adds to his misery.” [2] Because of his enchantment, the Fisher King cannot die from his injuries. While Thranduil could be slain, the incident that injured him did not kill him. Because he is an elf, time will not heal him the way it could heal a human. Even if he should be killed in battle or by grief, he will not truly die—he and his memories will return to Valinor. Perhaps he could find healing among the Valar, but he is still in Middle-Earth; thus, that is not an option.

Just as the Fisher King’s land is in need of healing by the Grail Quest, so is Thranduil’s land in need of healing. The reasons vary among medieval texts, if they are explained at all, but the Fisher King’s “life and happiness depend upon the success of the ceremony.” [3] In the Arthurian cycles, the Fisher King is healed when the Grail is achieved and the whole mess is rather sorted out at once. It can’t work that way in The Hobbit, nor do I expect that such a relationship is intended. The Arkenstone doesn’t have healing powers. However, by creating a bigger rift between elves and dwarves, Peter Jackson has set us up for reconciliation. Whatever Thranduil is afraid of, it needs to be resolved when Thorin becomes King Under the Mountain.

Thranduil depends on something outside of himself for healing. Whether it is the return of Nauglamír, the quest for the Arkenstone, or something else is unknown, but he cannot restore himself. The Fisher King and Perceval share a unique relationship in that Perceval is the only one capable of healing the Fisher King. If Thranduil is in need of healing, it appears that Thorin must ultimately be the one to bring it about. Next week: Thorin and Perceval?

  1. J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit (New York: Ballantine Books, 1966): 166.
  2. Alexander H. Krappe, “The Fisher King,” The Modern Language Review, 39, no. 1 (1944): 21 .
  3. Wm. A. Nitze, “The Fisher King in the Grail Romances,” PMLA, 24, no. 3 (1909): 376.

Comments

Thranduil and the Fisher King: A Need for Healing — 2 Comments

  1. Interesting post! One relatively minor comment on the Tolkienian side of things: I’m not sure we know whether Thranduil was actually ever present in Doriath. His father certainly did, but Tolkien seems to have been a little less clear whether Thranduil was around then, or if he was only born later, in the Second Age.

    Not that this really changes much for the interpretation of the movies, and any connection to things Arthurian there.

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