Aragorn, Bilbo, Bram Stoker, Dracula, Dunedain, Gerontius, immortal, Nosferatu, Numenoreans, Professor Van Helsing, Saruman, The Lord of the Rings, The Scouring of the Shire, The Shadow of the Past, Tolkien, vampire, Voivode Dracula
As always, dear readers, welcome.
Once before, we wrote about the Scouring of the Shire and about the queer events after Saruman’s death, but, recently, we’ve come across something which might suggest an explanation.
This past term/semester, one of us taught Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel, Dracula, for the first time (and it seemed to be a big hit, we might add), as we’ve also mentioned before.
In the book, Professor Van Helsing tells the protagonists that Dracula:
“…must, indeed, have been that Voivode Dracula who won his name against the Turk, over the great river on the very frontier of Turkey-land.” (Dracula, Chapter XVIII)
If indeed true, this would mean that the Un-dead figure in the novel, who, historically, had been born about 1430, would, at the time of the novel, be about 467 years old. Van Helsing explains this longevity:
“The vampire live on, and cannot die by mere passing of the time; he can flourish when that he can fatten on the blood of the living.”
“Even more, we have seen amongst us that he can even grow younger; that his vital faculties grow strenuous, and seem as though they refresh themselves when his special pabulum is plenty.” [pabulum is a little odd here, to us, as it’s an early word for “baby food”—perhaps Van Helsing is being sarcastic?]
We were easily, as always, prompted back to JRRT here and something Bilbo says to Gandalf when he is about to leave Bag End in the first chapter of The Lord of the Rings:
“I am old, Gandalf. I don’t look it, but I am beginning to feel it in my heart of hearts. Well-preserved indeed!…Why, I feel all thin, sort of stretched, if you know what I mean: like butter that has been scraped over too much bread. That can’t be right.” (The Fellowship of the Ring, Book One, Chapter 1, “A Long-Expected Party”)
Hobbits are, in comparison to humans in our current world and among non-Numenoreans in Middle-earth, a long-lived race, Bilbo’s family in particular being perhaps an extreme example, his grandfather, Gerontius (a small academic joke—geron in Greek means “old man”), living to be 130—and Bilbo will even surpass him, if only briefly.
“Stretched”, however, suggests something else—and we know, as Gandalf does, what that is–the Ring:
“A mortal, Frodo, who keeps one of the Great Rings, does not die, but he does not grow or obtain more life, he merely continues, until at last every minute is a weariness. And if he often uses the Ring to make himself invisible, he fades: he becomes in the end invisible permanently, and walks in the twilight under the eye of the Dark Power that rules the Rings. Yes, sooner or later—later, if he is strong or well-meaning to begin with, but neither strength nor good purpose will last—sooner or later the Dark Power will devour him.” (The Fellowship of the Ring, Book One, Chapter 2, “The Shadow of the Past”)
And so, Bilbo would have felt more and more “stretched”, had he not given it up, even as he continued to go on existing–Gollum, after all, is nearly 600 when he meets Bilbo for the riddling game.
As we’ve mentioned, the descendants of the Numenoreans had a naturally-extended life. Aragorn, for instance, is 87 at the time of The Lord of the Rings, and 210 at his death in FA120.
Others in Middle-earth, however, have simply been given what would seem to be life spans practically without limit. The elves, like Galadriel, are, in effect, immortal. Likewise are the Istari—the “wizards”, like Gandalf.
This should extend to Saruman, as well.
And yet, something seems to have gone wrong here, as we wrote about some time ago. Once Grima has cut his throat:
“To the dismay of those that stood by, about the body of Saruman a grey mist gathered, and rising slowly to a great height like smoke from a fire, as a pale shrouded figure it loomed over the Hill. For a moment it wavered, looking to the West; but out of the West came a cold wind, and it bent away, and with a sigh dissolved into nothing.”
This isn’t the end, however.
“Frodo looked down at the body with pity and horror, for as he looked it seemed that long years of death were suddenly revealed in it, and it shrank, and the shriveled face became rags of skin upon a hideous skull. Lifting up the skirt of the dirty cloak that sprawled beside it, he covered it over, and turned away.” (The Return of the King, Book Six, Chapter 8, “The Scouring of the Shire”)
It’s never explained why the—for lack of a better word—spirit of Saruman disappears as it does. The fact that it looks to the West—towards Valinor—and a cold wind blows from there suggests that, somehow, the Valar are punishing Saruman for betraying their trust and forbidding him from returning to them, as the living Gandalf will in the final chapter of the book (and for a second time, it seems, Gandalf having been “sent back” after his apparent death fighting the Balrog).
What Frodo sees in the sprawled body, however, suggests something more: “long years of death were suddenly revealed in it”. Here’s Stoker’s description of the end of Dracula:
“As I looked, the eyes saw the sinking sun, and the look of hate in them turned to triumph.
But, on the instant, came the sweep and flash of Jonathan’s great knife. I shrieked as I saw it shear through the throat; whilst at the same moment Mr. Morris’ bowie knife plunged into the heart.
It was like a miracle; but before our very eyes, and almost in the drawing of a breath, the whole body crumble[d] into dust and passed from our sight.” (Dracula, Chapter XXVII)
Bilbo and Gollum have continued to live because the Ring has given them the power to do so, but at a great cost, at least for Gollum, as Gandalf says. Dracula has been given nearly 500 years because he has become a parasite on the living, but those years were his with the loss of his soul. Could it be that Saruman, although given immortality because he is one of the Maiar, has, through his long years of plotting, either to work with Sauron or even to become Sauron, somehow become more like one of the Un-dead, gradually losing life even though immortal?
(This is the end of Count Orlok, the Dracula figure in our favorite vampire movie, FW Murnau’s 1922 Nosferatu. If you’d like to see the film, here’s a LINK to it from the Internet Archive site.)
In which case, his end is much worse than that of Dracula, as one of the protagonists, Mina Harker, writes:
“I shall be glad as long as I live that even in that moment of final dissolution, there was in the face a look of peace, such as I never could have imagined might have rested there.”