Saturday, June 14, 2014

Answering GRRM on JRRT's character Aragorn

The following is a quote from Rolling Stone magazine, its interview with George R. R. Martin:

Ruling is hard. This was maybe my answer to Tolkien, whom, as much as I admire him, I do quibble with. Lord of the Rings had a very medieval philosophy: that if the king was a good man, the land would prosper. We look at real history and it’s not that simple. Tolkien can say that Aragorn became king and reigned for a hundred years, and he was wise and good. But Tolkien doesn’t ask the question: What was Aragorn’s tax policy? Did he maintain a standing army? What did he do in times of flood and famine? And what about all these orcs? By the end of the war, Sauron is gone but all of the orcs aren’t gone – they’re in the mountains. Did Aragorn pursue a policy of systematic genocide and kill them? Even the little baby orcs, in their little orc cradles?


Now taking the items one by one:

Ruling is hard. This was maybe my answer to Tolkien, whom, as much as I admire him, I do quibble with.

My own quibble with him is he didn't go the whole hog and go Geocentric in real life too. As well as Young Earth Creationist. But yes, ruling is hard.

However, there is a difference between a system in which ruling is hard but possible and a system where it seems as if staying not just in power but even in your personal honour and life requires resorting to dirty tricks. One in which good rulers are systematically eliminated. GKC in The Return of Don Quixote starts out with a play on the return of Richard the Lion Hearted to England - where he is promptly opposed by bad barons. A line from the blank verse drama goes "What wild white terror if a king were good!". I will give you the quote in full:

Shall I who sing with the high tree-tops at morning
Sink to be Austria; even as is that brute
And brigand that entrapped me, or be made
A slave, a spy, a cheat, a King of France?
And what crowns other shadow this the earth?
The evil kings sit easy on their thrones
Shame healed with habit; but what panic aloft
What wild white terror if a king were good!
What staggering of the stars; what prodigy.
Men easily endure an unjust master
But a just master no man will endure
His nobles shall rise up, his knights betray him
And he go forth, as I go forth, alone.


http://www.cse.dmu.ac.uk/~mward/gkc/books/Don_Quixote.txt


Scroll down to CHAPTER XI THE LUNACY OF THE LIBRARIAN

My point is, in the Middle Ages there were lots of people who might have wanted to weed out good kings from the landscape (I am btw not inclined to agree with the sentiments on Austria, being born there). In the Modern World they have by and large succeeded.

Lord of the Rings had a very medieval philosophy: that if the king was a good man, the land would prosper.

But it is true. The hard bit is just having the king being a good man and still staying king. Effectively so.

We look at real history and it’s not that simple.

Having a king that was a good man was always the tricky part. And especially maintaining his power as well as his innocence. Chesterton had a few things to say about the Parliament who betrayed King Richard II.

Tolkien can say that Aragorn became king and reigned for a hundred years, and he was wise and good.

It is possible.

But Tolkien doesn’t ask the question: ...

Well, thing is that Tolkien pretty certainly did go into realistic detail while preparing the chapters of the novel, he did not show all of it in them.

What was Aragorn’s tax policy?

I will give you the countryside of Medieval Sweden/or same land of Early Modern Ages.

Tithes were payed to the Church, and as the name suggests, they were ten percent of whatever type of income they applied to. They did not apply to wages or any servants' daily food, but to solid income of property owners. Tithes from grain were divided as follows:

  • 1/3 to parish priest.
  • 2/3 further divided:
    • 1/3 thereof to the Bishop
    • 1/3 thereof to the Church
    • 1/3 thereof to the poor.


Other tithes from farmers were entirely in the hands of the parish priest. Milk tithe was given in the form of cheese. "Priest cheese" - prestost - is still a cheese brand, somewhere between cheddar and tilsit in quality in memory of this custom.

The bishop had less from each farmer than the parish priests had. Parish priest had 1/3 or 3/9, but bishop only 1/3 of 2/3, or 2/9. This does not precluse the bishop had more income than the parish priest. The priest only had it from a parish, the bishop from an entire see - in the Middle Ages Sweden had seven of those, and all of Finland was the one see of Abo.

Whether priest or bishop got such and such a part of the tithe, it was to be spent at his discretion. They were not supposed to spend it on wild partying. But if they did, that was their business, as far as the taxes were concerned. It was not their business as far as the Church was concerned. Especially as far as superiors were concerned. A bad priest would have to answer to his bishop. A bad bishop would have to answer to the Archbishop of Uppsala. To be clear: the Uppsala of the Archbishops was not identical to the Uppsala of Odin and the Yngling Dynasty. In present day Uppsala, the latter is called Gamla Uppsala - Old/Elder Uppsala. It was abandoned as Swedes became Christians and the Christian Uppsala was a few miles aside.

The Church was one beneficiary of the tithes. It would be dispensed with according to orders of the bishop and was not his own. A Church needed repair? The tithe of the Church. A village needed a new Church and could not pay it all? The tithe of the Church. A student needed to be sent to Sorbonne, to study Philosophy under St Thomas Aquinas? The tithe of the Church. Alas for Sweden, at a certain period two students, brothers, were sent to Wittenberg. You can imagine whom they studied under. A cathedral needed a school so the knowledge acquired at Sorbonne could be of profit to Swedes not leaving the country? Tithe of the Church.

This was not all there was to pay for these things.

When a village needed a priest and a Church of its own, it was usual for twelve farmers to make the request, and also to make a contribution. Land was not bought by the tithe of the Church, it was contributed by the village.

Kings and nobles had also endowed the Church or specific institutions thereof - such as monasteries or hospitals. Usually with land. This meant that such and such a farm had some institution of the Church as its owner and the actual farming people just as tenants. That - perhaps - the Church disposed of its net income after people working there were fed, precisely as a farmer disposed of the net income once the people working were fed and the tithes were paid. Or - perhaps, I do not know which - that the Church got a substantial portion of the net income, exceeding the ithe anyway, precisely as a noble would if a noble were owning the land.

The poor were fed and clothed both from the 2/9 of the tithe set aside for them and from voluntary alms. Bishops and priests were supposed to set a good example for the greedier burghers and farmers, and so were kings and noblemen supposed to do.

In the beginning of the Modern Era, the tithe was revised so as to comprise "priest's tithe" (same portion as previously given to parish priests) and "King's tithe" (Gustav Wasa looted the Catholic Church in other ways too, on top of turning it Lutheran!). This is less interesting for this purpose (since this aspect is definitely NOT a model for a good king) than his taxation for the Crown. Now the taxation for the crown had very few functions: army, justice, administration (including the looting and perverting of the Church). It was a set sum to be paid each year by each farmer, and it was calculated on what his land would usually supply in a typical year, and taking five percents of that. So in 1530 the tax that lay on a farmer was typically 15% of all of his income. Or even less, perhaps only the grain was included in the crown tax. If the tithe had remained entirely administered by the Church, the Church would have received about twice as much as the crown. And together they received 15% - as today's Russia or Serbia.

Towns were an entirely other chapter - their laws might have been ultimately modelled, including exception from the crowns' rule - on the position of Magdeburg within the Holy Roman Empire (I think the Hanseatic cities were modelled on Magdeburg, and Stockholm and Visby were certainly two of them).

Aragorn was in the fantasy living not only pre-grace, but pre-flood, so there was no Church. But institutions of Gondor such as libraries and houses of Healing in Minas Tirith, unless funded in ways more typical of towns, would probably have been funded in ways similar to the sketch given.

Did he maintain a standing army?

If thereby you mean a single under a unified command, no. It is sufficiently clear from the novel that Gondor was ruled in a feudal manner. A standing guard or two was maintained at the Steward's or King's immediate disposition. Other territorial lords were contributing with their standing troops.

The reason why in Sweden nobles were not taxed was that they "paid taxes" by serving the community in wars and in the meting out of justice.

What did he do in times of flood and famine?

Apart from the troops already mentioned, there would have been volunteer forces - as originally in Sweden too, before the rise of feudalism. Obviously things were prepared - by tax money or by farms belonging to the local lords - so that both safety boats, dams, and supplies could be put to use when needed.

And what about all these orcs? By the end of the war, Sauron is gone but all of the orcs aren’t gone – they’re in the mountains. Did Aragorn pursue a policy of systematic genocide and kill them? Even the little baby orcs, in their little orc cradles?

Yes. Except orcs were hardly raised in cradles.

Tolkien also stated that in real life there are no orcs. No rational being predetermined quasi biologically for evil.

I have seen some "Israel friendly" Christians disagree on this, saying the Nephelim were "genetically evil". Baruch (whom Bergoglio misquoted in his speech at Yad Vashem as to verse and chapter 2:2) says about the giants of old [26] There were the giants, those renowned men that were from the beginning, of great stature, expert in war. [27] The Lord chose not them, neither did they find the way of knowledge: therefore did they perish. [28] And because they had not wisdom, they perished through their folly. - meaning he doesn't exclude they could have found it if they had tried, if they had had the grace of God.

Later a giant known as Christopher did find wisdom. But that was after the Incarnation.


If we go to calamities similar to orcs in mountain sides, rather than the examples given, such as orcs themselves or very dissimilar thing, I think instead of calling Austria "brigand" just because its duke and his squire took revenge on Richard after he returned from the Crusade (which was an act of brigandage, since Richard was technically a pilgrim till getting back home) we might see them as expert when dealing with brigands.* It can however be mentioned that the brigands barons who according to legend were guilty were also those who kept Richard Lionheart prisoner.

Hans Georg Lundahl
Library of Mouffetard Street
Ember Saturday of Pentecost
14 / VI / 2014

* See for instance (if you read German):

Sagen.at : Hunde von Kuenring
http://www.sagen.at/texte/sagen/oesterreich/niederoesterreich/waldviertel/kuenring.html


Sagen.at : Das Rosengärtlein von Aggstein
http://www.sagen.at/texte/sagen/oesterreich/niederoesterreich/wachau/rosengaertlein_aggstein.html

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