One thing is clear about all of Tolkien’s writings: less is more. Referring to Tom Bombadil in a letter, the Professor wrote:
“As a story, I think it is good that there should be a lot of things unexplained (especially if an explanation actually exists)”
So it is with many of the characters and places and items of Middle-earth. He uses this device in The Hobbit as well as The Lord of the Rings and the Silmarillion to good effect. It provides a sense of depth and importance and intrigue, even if that depth is not actually there, and we readers respond to it. In our previous article on the Nîn-in-Eilph, the Master of Lore provides another fine example with Swanfleet — Tolkien never thought much about the place before the letter, but that did not stop a reader from simply wanting to know more about such an interesting-sounding place. George R.R. Martin even agreed: in an interview he said that, to his surprise, Tytos Blackwood (a character who did not get much more than a mention until the fifth book of A Song of Ice and Fire) was often cited as a reader favorite.
This was very much my feeling when I first met Prince Imrahil.
EXPLORE THE LEGEND
And last and proudest, Imrahil, Prince of Dol Amroth, kinsman of the Lord, with gilded banners bearing his token of the Ship and the Silver Swan, and a company of knights in full harness riding grey horses; and behind them seven hundreds of men at arms, tall as lords, grey-eyed, dark-haired, singing as they came.
Who are these glorious knights, singing in the dusk of evening as they ride to the hope of Minas Tirith? We never learn too much about them, only a bit from earlier in the chapter:
…beyond, in the great fief of Belfalas, dwelt Prince Imrahil in his castle of Dol Amroth by the sea, and he was of high blood, and his folk also, tall men and proud with sea-grey
Their Prince and Captain, who has one of Tolkien’s most aesthetically pleasing names, features prominently in the Battle of Pelennor Fields and its aftermath; he rescues Faramir from the field and carries him to Denethor; he is there at ‘Last Debate’ and the Battle of Morannon and later events; he even serves as acting Steward of Gondor for a short while. We know he is wise and kind and surely of Elvish descent. As Legolas says of him:
That is a fair lord and a great captain of men. If Gondor has such men still in these days of fading, great must have been its glory in the days of its rising.
The appendices, naturally, provide us with some insight, as do the Histories of Middle-earth. So let’s begin there, and then I’d like to talk about his mysterious title as ‘Prince’. Imrahil was the son of Adrahil II. Before his son, Prince Adrahil had two daughters, Ivriniel and Finduilas. In T.A. 3010 he died, giving the seat of Prince of Dol Amroth to his son. At the time of the War of the Ring, he had been Prince for eight years and he was 63 years old, though still counted as ‘fair’ amongst the people of Gondor. He would live another 37 years and die peacefully at the ripe age of 100. As we learn in the appendices his daughter, Lothíriel, marries Éomer, King of Rohan, not long after the events of the War.
It is at this point that we make a little tangent and discuss genealogy and family trees. Unfortunately I have no knack for relations and can barely reckon my own so there will be, perhaps, some errors. As much as I want to be, I am only slightly a Hobbit at heart. Luckily Tolkien was, as he said, ‘in fact a hobbit in all but size’, so he was unafraid to dive head first into the gene pool as any reader will tell you. Rings and the Silmarillion are racked with family trees. Let’s begin with Adrahil and then make some connexions.
First, Adrahil was a long descendent of the lords of Númenor returned to Middle-earth, counting their sires back to Imrazôr and then Galador, first Prince of Dol Amroth. Popular wisdom says that Imrazôr wedded Mithrellas, an elf-maiden of Lothlórien. Whether this is true or not one cannot say, though Legolas seems to confirm it. The elf-haven of Edhellond was very close to Dol Amroth and so the geographical connexion is there, as is another link in elvish history — Dol Amroth is named for Amroth, former lord of Lórien. But that’s another story for another article.
Anyways, Galador became the first Prince of Dol Amroth. His descendants had rules as ‘princes’ from Belfalas further south, but it was with Galador that the Prince of Dol Amroth, as a seat and title, began. Adrahil was of this line and the bond between Dol Amroth and Minas Tirith (or maybe it was Osgiliath at the time) was further strengthened when his daughter Finduilas married Denethor, Steward of Gondor. Finduilas died tragically at a young age (38), apparently of grief and poor health. It was, perhaps, the first major blow to Denethor’s sanity.
The lines of Steward (and then King) and Prince become further entangled by the aforementioned wedding of King Éomer and Lothíriel, and again when Faramir becomes Prince of Ithilien and marries Éowyn of Rohan. Also bear in mind that Théoden‘s wife was a Gondorian woman!
But what is a ‘prince’, really? And what does it mean for Gondor? Of course today our understanding of the title of
Prince only applies, seemingly, to the immediate sons of a ruler (thanks, Disney!). But in actuality ‘Prince’ is a general title and a pretty good songwriter. Originally Prince was something along the lines of a Duke — a lesser landowning lord, but still an important one. Titles often vary by the country in which they are used as well. Anyone who has taken a world history class knows of ‘Archduke’ Franz Ferdinand. He was the supreme ruler of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, but was still titled Duke (even if he was arch), not King or Emperor. So it is with Prince. Taken from the Latin (Roman) word princeps, it was adopted in the fallout after the collapse of the Roman Empire and rise of feudal Europe and the Holy Roman Empire (as opposed to Germanic tribal life). It’s not until later times that we see a generalized usage of Prince to mean ‘prince of the blood’ or ‘crown prince’.
Tolkien, as a scholar of medieval language and culture, was well aware (far more than myself) of the proper usage of such titles, but really applied them sparingly to his people of Middle-earth. Apart from Kings we don’t get too many specific titles. Thain and Mayor in the Shire; Prince in Gondor; Marshall of the Mark in Rohan (though that was a military rank more than a lordship or official title); Master of Lake-town. There may be more, but we see the point — this isn’t Game of Thrones where everyone is vying for land and title and it is partly why Imrahil stands out so much: there just aren’t other princes.
Prince of Dol Amroth, as I said, was granted to Galador and his descendants. The title ‘Prince of Ithilien’ is later given to Faramir by King Elessar. There were other lords holding other lands, just as we see in the ‘outlands’ procession in the Minas Tirith chapter of Rings (remember Forlong, Lord of Lossarnach?). But the Princes are of a higher lineage more closely related to the Steward (and later King). Imrahil bears his line well and shows his quality and, to be bold, superiority to those ‘swarthy’ lords of lesser lineage.
Some have complained of the lack of synergy between Imrahil and his outlands counterparts. Certainly it was an oversight due to the Outlands trait having not yet been developed when his card was released, but perhaps a good thematic reasoning behind Imrahil, the greatest of the outland captains, not bearing that trait is because he is, as I say, a cut above and Gondorian royalty indeed.
I was going to close this up with a remark about how all the ‘good’ guys’ blood trickles back to the Eldar, and that those Men further from the Elves are always the lesser ones, but that’s actually not the case. Because even though the Elves are more intrinsically ‘good’, being a sort of pre-fallen man, it is really to the gods of Valinor that the ‘good’ guys of Middle-earth follow their lines back to. Something higher, more perfect and usullied, is the light that permeates the heroes of the west of Middle-earth, which is ultimately what these stories are about.
SHOWCASE THE ART
I love the art on Imrahil’s card. The Prince has been depicted in many different ways, few of them how I imagine him. I think David A. Nash did a good job of capturing his ‘fairness’, his Elvish and Dúnedain lineage, without making him look too young. Age is often a precarious thing with Middle-earth characters — Frodo and Bilbo were both 50 when they set out, but does a middle age hobbit still look young by our standards? How do elves look young and old at the same time? — but this card did well with the Prince. His armour looks splendid and I’m glad we get to see him horseback, as he is when we are first introduced.
The piece below is another gem I found on the ubiquitous DeviantArt. Because he did not make the cut in the films we may easily forget that Imrahil went with Mithrandir before and during the siege of Minas Tirith, rousing the troops and spreading hope wherever they went. This is show in splendid fashion by the artist below.
DISCUSS THE CARDS
Imrahil was the first hero (and is still only one of two) to have a ‘leaves play’ response. Many decks have been built around this ability, especially when Éomer‘s ability was first spoiled, so I will not subject you to another one. I will, however, go over a few combos that should work well with Imrahil.
Some obvious cards that are sometimes overlooked when building around a ‘leaves play’ Leadership hero are Grave Cairn and Valiant Sacrifice. Card draw is huge whenever possible, especially for Leadership, and if you have allies leaving play anyway there is no reason not to include this card. That draw can fuel more combos to get more action out the Prince. Since he weighs in at 3 strength, Imrahil is often used as an attacker. If allies are heading out anyway, then why not hulk him for even more attack? This is an awesome combo with the Eagles (more on that below).
You don’t hear much about Imrahil as a defender, but the injection of Gondor cards that we got in the Against the Shadow cycle grants a lot of potential for Imrahil as an auxiliary defender with multiple actions (secondary to Beregond, Elrohir, and perhaps Denethor). Gondorian Shield automatically jumps him to 4 defense making him, coupled with his readying action, an excellent choice if you’re in a pinch. Even if you don’t use the Shield, Gondorian Discipline is a really underrated option for turning Imrahil into a defender at need; even if his 2 defense is not enough you can immediately cancel some of the damage. Behind Strong Walls nets a similar outcome: ready Imrahil after questing if a chump leaves play, exhaust to defend, then ready to defend again with an extra point of defense.
If you’re running Leadership and Imrahil, the Wealth of Gondor is at your disposal. A quick injection from cards like Wealth of Gondor, plus Steward, will give him potentially huge numbers for Gondorian fire. This combo has been regularly used with Boromir, but I don’t know that I’ve seen Imrahil show his fire.
There are many other cards to utilize, between Imrahil’s Gondor trait and his ‘leaves play’ effect. If you’re running Spirit you can use Blood of Númenor to make him a huge defender, especially with extra cash from Squire which will ready him as well. Eagles and Silvan both have many cards that leave play and I think I might like to see just how useful Imrahil would be with some Silvan friends to ready him pretty much at need.
Until next time, dig into those books and may the hair on your toes never fall out!