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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
@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
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
up vote 43 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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Maybe it has something to do with Aragorn being from the line of Elros. Maybe it is elves (or those with Elven blood such as the Elendili) who are able to wield its full potential. – Mooz Jan 19 '15 at 0:48

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
And Elendil who was descended from Elros (Elrond's brother who chose to be mortal). – Mooz Jan 19 '15 at 0:47

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 '14 at 21:30
I know I'm commenting a little late here, but Athelas can in fact be used to heal ordinary wounds; Aragorn used it on the relatively minor injuries Sam and Frodo received in Moria. So, the wound didn't need to be Morgul-blade level for it to work. – Mary ML May 24 '15 at 4:31

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
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
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

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

This was the thing that bothered me most in the 2nd Hobbit movie.

If she's just washed it with the kingsfoil then that would be OK, but to combine it with magic - she shouldn't be able to do that. Not when she's a green wood elf.

Aragorn being of the Numenorian Kings bloodline being able to help Frodo a little (though not heal him completely) is one thing - but it took all of Elrond's skill to heal Frodo.

Even if Kili's wound wasn't as serious or the poison not as strong, then there is no way a common wood elf should have the magic to do that.

If it was Glandriel, then fine, she probably does six before breakfast.

But the wood elves of Mirkwood are a branch of the Teleri which never sailed for Valinor, and the King obviously doesn't think she's of high enough status to be involved with his son.

There was no hint I can think of either in the books or movies of Legolas having any substantial magic at all, and if that's true of a Teleri prince, then a Teleri commoner should have even less. Even if they have magic should be no where near Elrond's power.

It just felt wrong to me.

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I thought the wood elves of mirkwood were avari, and not of the three houses at all. This makes your argument stronger, of course. – Jerry Schirmer Aug 23 '14 at 15:48
@JerrySchirmer - Unfinished Tales, History of Galadriel and Celeborn - "they still remembered that they were in origin Eldar, members of the Third Clan, and they welcomed those of the Noldor and especially the Sindar who did not pass over the Sea but migrated eastward". – user8719 Sep 7 '14 at 0:02

By all acounts the athelas plant shouldn't even GROW IN THE AREA. As the previously given quote proves that athelas grows ONLY near places where Dunedain lived or camped. No Dunedain near Long Lake, these lands (northern Rhovanion) were never part of any of the numenorean Realms-in-Exile (Arnor and Gondor). The humans who live there by the time of the Hobbit story are Lake-men of Esgaroth, and remnants of Men of Dale (survivors from Smaug's raids that escaoed the ruined city, they lived either in Lake-town or other communities south along river Celduin, Bard Bowman was direct descendant of royal line from Girion that survived thanks to Girion's wife).

The herb indeed has healing properties recognized by common people in Gondor (but few remembered it in the North, save Rangers and the rest of secretive Dunedain population), there are also some scraps of knowledge (the mentioned by Herb-master of Houses of Healing in Minas Tirith, half-forgotten verses, as well as Ioreth's reference to king's hands). Yet it is said that in itself the healing property is weaker when not used by king's line (Aragorn also could apparently make it more potent by breathing upon it and excercising more of his innate healing power, which could be 'considered blend of magic pharmacy and hypnotic processes').

Whether Tauriel should be able to use it and the exact nature of Kili's wound is beyond our knowledge it's just stupid movie invention that poses more problems than it solves (first of all the Morgul-knife turns people into wraiths under total dominion of Sauron and command of Nazgul, Nazgul can also deal enchanted morgul-wounds Steward of Gondor Boromir I received one and it left him shrunken with pain and shortened his life, and they have darts with potent poison, either of which ends horribly for those afflicted, the very idea of a simple orc-arrow dealing any sort of ''morgul wound'' is ridiculous, while orcs possibly could have some sort of widely understood magic being thaught or given by Dark Lord, it would be far better if movie used for this purpose simple orc-poison, since it's traditional for orcs to use poisoned arrows and blades, poisoned sword is mentioned and treated seriously by Aragorn as he says that many paid highest price for slaying their first orc).

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I know I'm commenting a little late here, but Athelas can in fact be used to heal ordinary wounds; Aragorn used it on the relatively minor injuries Sam and Frodo received in Moria. So, the wound didn't need to be Morgul-blade level for it to work. – Mary ML May 24 '15 at 4:28

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