PS. Before people get their backs up about the word "allegory" because of Tolkien's perceived dislike of it based on that particular quote, feel free to replace the world "allegory" with "applicability". I believe that Tolkien was simply making a semantic distinction in that quote, and there are many other instances of him admitting to the use of allegory.

In the Extended Edition of The Return of the King, immediately after Gandalf and Pippin storm out of their meeting with Denethor, Gandalf says the following:

The old wisdom borne out of the West was forsaken. Kings made tombs more splendid than the houses of the living, and counted the old names of their descent dearer than the names of their sons. Childless lords sat in aged halls, musing on heraldry or in high, cold towers, asking questions of the stars. And so the people of Gondor fell into ruin. The line of kings failed. The White Tree withered. The rule of Gondor was given over to lesser men.

This scene stands out in the movie for how strongly opinionated - and, frankly, ranty - it is, especially for Gandalf. It seems so on-the-nose and elaborate a monologue that it feels like Tolkien can only have intended that passage as an allegory for something. Do the books expand on this passage any more, and do we know what - if anything - Tolkien intended Gondor to be an allegory for here?

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    For anyone wondering where all these questions are coming from, I recently rewatched the trilogy and made the mistake of watching the Return of the King high. The only thing that took more time than noting down the questions was going through them after to determine which ones were actually worth asking (and which ones had already been answered).
    – Prometheus
    Jun 29, 2020 at 19:22
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    whenever asking about allegory and LoTR, it's best to remember the words of the good professor Tolkien himself regarding allegory: "it has, in the intention of the author: NONE....I cordially dislike allegory in all its manifestations"
    – NKCampbell
    Jun 29, 2020 at 19:48
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    I did. And I discounted it :)
    – NKCampbell
    Jun 29, 2020 at 19:49
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    If applicability is what you mean, then, just go ahead and say applicability, but then it's going to be more of an opinion based answer because applicability is in the eye of the beholder. Allegory is, as he states, in the intent of the author, and he says he had none. Thus, the disclaimer of 'don't get mad at the use of term allegory' is invalid imo :)
    – NKCampbell
    Jun 29, 2020 at 19:52
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    In the same letter though, he then says that's it's actually not about power, "I do not think that even Power or Domination is the real centre of my story...the real theme for me is about something much more permanent and difficult: Death and ImmortalityThe real theme for me is about something much more permanent and difficult: Death and Immortality." - note here he says "theme", not allegory. :) - look - I'm not going to argue with an Oxford professor about whethor or not he was writing allegorically...
    – NKCampbell
    Jun 29, 2020 at 20:04

1 Answer 1


In the book, it's not Gandalf who says those lines, but Faramir speaking to Frodo.

The context and meaning are a little different in the book. Instead of Gandalf, the outside critic, you have Faramir, the now heir-apparent, lamenting the state of Gondor. The specific lines your asking about are more a critique of how the old kings failed and how the stewards were able to save Gondor.

Based on that, I don't think it's an allegory for anything. It's just Faramir somberly accepting what he sees as the last days of Gondor.

‘Maybe. But tell me now of your own fortunes,’ said Frodo, turning the matter aside once again. ‘For I would learn more of Minas Ithil and Osgiliath,and Minas Tirith the long-enduring. What hope have you for that city in your long war?’

‘What hope have we?’ said Faramir. ‘It is long since we had any hope.The sword of Elendil, if it returns indeed, may rekindle it, but I do not think that it will do more than put off the evil day, unless other help unlooked-for also comes, from Elves or Men. For the Enemy increases and we decrease.We are a failing people, a springless autumn.

And a few paragraphs later

‘It is not said that evil arts were ever practised in Gondor, or that the Nameless One was ever named in honour there; and the old wisdom and beauty brought out of the West remained long in the realm of the sons of Elendil the Fair, and they linger there still. Yet even so it was Gondor that brought about its own decay, falling by degrees into dotage, and thinking that the Enemy was asleep, who was only banished not destroyed.

‘Death was ever present, because the Númenóreans still, as they had in their old kingdom, and so lost it, hungered after endless life unchanging.Kings made tombs more splendid than houses of the living, and counted old names in the rolls of their descent dearer than the names of sons. Childless lords sat in aged halls musing on heraldry; in secret chambers withered men compounded strong elixirs, or in high cold towers asked questions of the stars. And the last king of the line of Anárion had no heir.

‘But the stewards were wiser and more fortunate. Wiser, for they recruited the strength of our people from the sturdy folk of the sea-coast, and from the hardy mountaineers of Ered Nimrais. And they made a truce with the proud peoples of the North, who often had assailed us, men of fierce valour, but our kin from afar off, unlike the wild Easterlings or the cruel Haradrim

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    Don’t have the book handy to check, but just how it reads, it feels like that second to last paragraph might be missing some words near the start. Jun 29, 2020 at 20:23
  • I used a pdf I found online to pull the quotes, but I checked it against my actual copy of the book and it seems correct. Feel free to edit of you find any omission though.
    – Alarion
    Jun 29, 2020 at 20:34

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