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It is my understanding in Lord of the Rings most folk dismiss athelas, also called kingsfoil, as a useless weed, while it's actually a healing herb. This is probably because by the time of the book's events, they haven't had a king to use it for a long time.

It's not made clear whether kingsfoil only works in the hands of the king of Gondor (or any king for that matter), or if it can be used by any person with less powerful effects. But it is definitely hinted at that it's only truly effective in the hands of a king.

However, in the second Hobbit movie, Tauriel -- an elf and certainly not a queen -- successfully uses kingsfoil to help someone recover from a pretty serious magical wound.

We know Tauriel was invented by Peter Jackson. Did he mess this up, or is this usage of kingsfoil actually supported by the source material?

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Also remember that this specific scene never happened in the books, so it is very likely to have been made up. Just like Beorn saying that there were no other skin-changers. His sons were skin changers; they were called the Beornings. –  jacen.garriss Dec 16 '13 at 21:47
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@jacen.garriss Yes, I know. What I'm asking is if it could have happened without contradicting Tolkien canon. –  Andres F. Dec 17 '13 at 0:13
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Hello downvoter! A comment would be appreciated :) –  Andres F. Dec 17 '13 at 15:17
    
good question IMHO –  FoxMan2099 Dec 18 '13 at 18:35
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5 Answers

up vote 28 down vote accepted

Tauriel's use of kingsfoil in the film is a legitimate extrapolation of known LotR canon.

There's nothing definitive on this, but it seems that while athelas is useful in the hands of any healer (Gondorian healers used it for headaches), the people of Gondor have noticed that it's especially effective in the hands of their royal family. This isn't a universal truth that kingsfoil (a name originating in Gondor) is sensitive to royalty, or to the royal Gondorian lineage in particular; it's just a Gondorian observation that their kings are better at using it than the average Gondorian is. In fact, if athelas responded to general royalty, it would not have been a suitable test for heirs to the Gondor throne: the royalty of any nation would pass.

So what made it a decent test? The Gondorian kings have elven blood. The fact that kingsfoil is more effective when used by Gondorian royalty actually supports the idea that an elf would be able to do especially cool stuff with it. This idea is reinforced by the name athelas, which means roughly "healing leaf" in both Elven tongues.

We can conclude that athelas is a healing herb which is most effective in elven hands. "The hands of a king are the hands of a healer" is a roundabout way of saying that the kings of Gondor are part elven, which athelas responds to. "Kingsfoil" is a folk etymology with roots in this ancient lore.

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Hmmm, makes sense. –  Andres F. Dec 16 '13 at 12:54
    
+1 to this for the important distinction about Elves, which seems to be what Jackson & co had in mind. –  Jimmy Shelter Dec 16 '13 at 13:34
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Yes. The scene is still painful to watch :( But at least it makes sense. –  Andres F. Dec 16 '13 at 15:04
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Aside: "Kingsfoil" is a pun that requires knowledge of five languages, two of which are fictional. "Athelas" (which means variations on "healing leaf" in both Sindarin and Quenya) is inspired by the Anglo-Saxon for "noble," and the Old French word "foil" means "leaf." –  BESW Dec 17 '13 at 11:27
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@DanielRoseman I don't think so. Tolkien puts great store in the purity of Numenorian blood in Aragorn and his ancestors, as you can see it in his extended lifespan. Tolkien wasn't a biologist, concerned with the spread of genetic information and relevant mathemtical models. Elven blood is a mythic quality, a strength and purity of character that the Numenorians enjoyed, squandered, and rediscovered with Aragorn. –  Avner Shahar-Kashtan Dec 17 '13 at 18:22
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Here is what Aragorn had to say about Athelas in Fellowship: "It is fortunate that I could find it, for it is a healing plant that the Men of the West brought to Middle-earth. Athelas they named it, and it grows now sparsely and only near places where they dwelt or camped of old; and it is not known in the North, except to some of those who wander in the Wild. It has great virtues, but over such a wound as this its healing powers may be small."

So Athelas was brought from Numenor, which the Elves of Valinor once regularly visited. When the Numenoreans came back to Middle Earth, they planted it around their camps for its healing properties. It is still known to those who wander in the Wild, a reference to the Rangers. The Rangers had Numenorean blood, but were not of the line of kings. This indicates the plant does not respond only to a king's bloodline.

Also, Aragorn was educated in Rivendell. In each healing scene, he combines the use of athelas with the use of magic, presumably learned from the elves. Aragorn is able to wield some magic because of his Elvish blood, but a full elf would be able to wield more magic than any human. Tauriel also combines the use of athelas with the use of magic, in keeping with the source material.

The herb-master of Gondor only knew the plant by one old poem, which references the king using the plant. If the healing properties of kingsfoil require magic to be used properly, then it is understandable that the common folk who could not wield magic would associate its use with those who could.

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The Rangers were the remnants of the kingdom of Arnor, whose royalty was also descended from Elendil. –  Shamshiel Dec 27 '13 at 13:48
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Given that the wound in question is made by some kind of arrow equivalent of the Morgul-blade (which makes no sense in and of itself, as it was the fragment of the Witch-King's blade left in the wound that was causing the problem and the arrow-head Kili was struck with came out whole as far as was mentioned/shown/) I think the scene was in direct contradiction of canon. If Glorfindel, a great Elf-Lord powerful enough to face down the Nazgul, could not heal Frodo's wound and had to rely on Elrond's healing expertise (enhanced by the properties of Vilya) then the idea that a wood-elf with some athelas (by Aragorn's own words of 'small' powers over such a wound) can match such a feat is ridiculous.

Jackson messed up.

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Been decades since I read the book. The movie was enjoyable but boy, takes a lot of liberties and has many elements I simply don't recall. Luke, you're right on ! +1 –  Stan Dec 27 '13 at 11:17
    
Perhaps it's because there's not an equivalence that a lowly silvan elf was able to heal it –  dsas Jan 12 at 21:30
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To me, it sounds like a mistake. Reading Tolkien, you quickly see that Tolkien is big on elitism. Certain people are just more special, because they are part of a special group. And when people try to get above their proper sphere, bad things happen. The eldar are just more special than the Avari, because they lived with the Valar, and the Avari stayed home. Sauron tempts the elves of Middle Earth to try to make Middle Earth as pretty as Valinor, and that's wrong of him, because nothing can possibly be as nice as Valinor, and it's hubris to even try.

Aragorn is a king. Turiel is just a wood-elf. She's an elf, but her ancestors didn't go to Valinor, so she's not nearly as special as elves like Galadrial who did go to Valinor, or Elrond, who is descended from elves who did. (Aragorn is descended from Elrond's brother)

So I would say that Tolkien never intended for a non-king to be able to use kingsfoil for healing. It's called kingsfoil, so you have to be descended from a king to use it properly.

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Since the association of kingsfoil with kings is apparently a Gondorian construct, it's just as likely that JRRT was showing off his knowledge of folk etymologies. We have no evidence that kingsfoil responds to general royalness--only the Gondor-specific folk wisdom that it responds to their kings. If it responded to general royalty, it would not have been a suitable test for heirs to the Gondor throne. The royalty of any nation would pass. –  BESW Dec 16 '13 at 21:44
    
@BESW I like how you think. –  Andres F. Dec 17 '13 at 0:14
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If we are going to stick to a Doyleist approach, Tolkien wasn't showing off his knowledge of the word origin, he chose to call his healing herb kingsfoil. If he'd wanted to imply that all elves could make use of it, he could have called it 'elf-leaf'. Note that Stewards were distantly descended from the Numenorian royal line, through a female branch. So all the Stewards had a bit of Elvish blood in them, but they couldn't use Kingsfoil. –  swbarnes2 Dec 17 '13 at 17:56
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How do you know that the Stewards couldn't use kingsfoil? Maybe they hadn't tried, or the knowledge needed to use it effectively had been lost. –  jacen.garriss Dec 17 '13 at 18:59
    
I upvoted your answer because it's what I thought at first, even though I ended up accepting BESW's answer. However, do we know anyone else besides the people of Gondor who called athelas "kingsfoil"? Maybe it's a folk name which only makes sense in the tradition of Gondor. At least Peter Jackson is careful not to have the dwarves or Tauriel call it so -- that would have definitely confused me! :P –  Andres F. Dec 18 '13 at 1:28
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Well, nobody said it would work. Maybe it's just a temporary relief to his pain, because indeed Tauriel doesn't have the necessary healing powers.

The film ended with a cliffhanger in every plot-line, so I'm guessing Kili isn't completely healed, and that by the third film, the wound will lead to... you know.

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You are right that maybe it doesn't work in the end. But the special effects and the music make it seem as if it was an important moment, similar to when Frodo gets "healed" at Rivendell. –  Andres F. Dec 27 '13 at 13:13
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