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The banner of Gondor had seven stars over a white tree. The symbolism of the tree was obvious; it represented the white tree of Gondor, descended from the white trees of Númenór, Tol Eressëa, and Tirion, and so back to Telperion itself. I had always thought that the symbolism of the stars was almost as obvious. Although the constellation they form is not described in the Lord of the Rings, I always took it to be Valacirca–the Sickle of the Valar, hung in the northern sky as an omen hanging over Melkor's head–known today as the Big Dipper.

However, I have noticed a number of people with T-shirts depicting the Gondorian flag, and none of them show the seven stars forming the shape of the Plough. Googling a bit, I found many more images, but still none with the constellation I expected. So I am now wondering: Is there any specific statement in Tolkien's writing that those stars were supposed to be Valacirca? Conversely, is there any indication that they were not meant to be the Big Dipper?

enter image description here

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No, they're not the Valacirca

According to the Index, included in the text from the second edition onwards, they represent the seven ships that carried the palantíri away from Númenor:

[The Seven stars of Elendil and his captains] originally represented the single stars on the banners of each of seven ships (of nine) that bore a palantír; in Gondor the seven stars were set about a white-flowered tree, over which the Kings set a winged crown.

Return of the King Index "Star, as emblem"

And boy is that a source I've never used before.

The design of the standard of Gondor

The only descriptions of the standard follow the following form:

There flowered a White Tree, and that was for Gondor; but Seven Stars were about it, and a high crown above it

Return of the King Book V Chapter 6: "The Battle of the Pelennor Fields

The precise arrangement of the stars is never described beyond this vague "set about." This doesn't appear to refer to a specific arrangement; the most relevant definitions of the word involve "near" and "on every side of", and there's no specific heraldric meaning to the word1.

A possibility for how Tolkien envisioned the Standard is given in the image below, which was submitted by him to his publishers as a possibly dust-jacket design for Return of the King:

enter image description here

Of course this isn't a perfect recreation of the description of the Standard, but is the only drawing of Tolkien's depicting anything similar to it; your mileage may vary.

The design used in the films likely takes its cue from another place we've seen seven stars: the Doors of Durin. Now, these aren't the same seven stars; per the Index, the stars of Durin probably are the Valacirca:

[The Stars of Durin] represented the Plough.

Return of the King Index "Star, as emblem"

"The Plough" is the UK name for what Americans call the Big Dipper, and what Tolkien called the Valacirca. Although I'm not sure of any textual evidence to support it, it seems likely that this is the intended meaning of the word.

Regardless, we're shown an image of the Doors of Durin, and the arrangement of the stars is similar to that seen on the film version of the Standard:

enter image description here


1 Thanks to Martha for confirming this

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  • AFAIK about here is just a slightly archaic synonym for "near" or "around", with no more precise meaning to it. – KutuluMike Jan 21 '16 at 3:12
  • @MikeEdenfield That was my thought too, but I wondered if it might have another meaning in a heraldric context; heraldry has some interesting uses of language sometimes – Jason Baker Jan 21 '16 at 3:14
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    how'd you get the image to be smaller? – RedCaio Jan 21 '16 at 3:16
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    @RedCaio meta.stackexchange.com/questions/74312/…. My life has never been the same since I discovered this – Jason Baker Jan 21 '16 at 3:17
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    @JasonBaker: about does not have a specialized heraldic meaning (and in fact isn't generally used in blazon, precisely because its meaning is ambiguous). – Martha Jan 21 '16 at 6:02
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Although, as per Jason Baker's answer, the seven stars of Gondor represented the seven ships that carried the palantíri, I don't think one instance of symbolism excludes the other. At the root of it all, the seven stars represent the constellation Varda set in the sky as a challenge to Melkor. The seven ships, each bearing a flag with a single star, might have been in homage to that symbolism.

Incidentally, the number 7 is a holy number in the Bible, and Tolkien (being a Catholic) seems to have carried that symbolism into his imagined world.

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There are many illustrations of the banner of Aragorn.

Here you see some of them:

https://www.google.com/search?q=Banner+of+Aragorn&source=lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwiu3e_xxqjUAhUDPCYKHbGWDuUQ_AUICigB&biw=1280&bih=8451

And each is more or less faithful to the Tolkien's description of it. But remember that any depiction of the banner that depicts the crown of Gondor the way it appears in the movie is incorrect in the novel LOTR.

The crown depicted in the movie is very different from the depiction in LOTR and thus wrong in Tolkien's lengendarium, as well as looking very inferior.

And fortunately Tolkien did actually draw and publish a depiction of a governmental emblem featuring a somewhat similar design with trees, stars, and a crown. On the Doors of Durin at Khazad dum as seen in Jason Baker's answer. thus there are good reasons to depict the banner of Gondor and objects on it in a similar style.

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