Crackpot Theory: Ar-Pharazôn’s Sexuality (or the lack thereof)
Some time ago, I presented my completely unprovable hypothesis that Rhaegar, from George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire, had Asperger’s Syndrome:
It’s a crackpot theory, of course – one that involves taking certain elements of the text, and running with them in accordance with wilder imagination. Consider it an eccentric bit of headcanon – a pet theory I happen to have about the story in question.
Today, I thought I would share another one, this time about a Tolkien character:
I think Ar-Pharazôn, Last King of Númenor, was either homosexual or asexual.
Now, Tolkien obviously never once addresses explicit homosexuality in his stories – quite apart from his own views on such artistic representations (which remain unknown*), there were legal consequences for publishing such material in his era. That, of course, has not stopped subsequent readers from looking for depictions of implicit homosexuality in Tolkien’s stories. The Frodo/Sam example is commonly cited, though I think that is more down to modern readers not quite grasping quasi-Victorian social norms. Besides, Sam Gamgee clearly has no objections to heterosexual sex, to judge by his horde of children with Rosie Cotton.
*It is all-too easy to jump to conclusions about Tolkien’s own opinions, based off his devout Catholicism. In fact, we know he was a fan of The Bull from the Sea, a historical fiction novel by Mary Renault, which depicts homosexuality in Ancient Greece.
From time to time, however, Tolkien throws up characters who are noted as simply not being interested in marriage. Eärnur of Gondor being the classic example – the King who was so enamoured with martial prowess that he neglected his duty to provide the kingdom with an Heir. That is not to say that Eärnur was another candidate for homosexuality or asexuality – though he can be read as such – since he disappeared while still of marriageable age. He may have been a lazy procrastinator on the subject of an Heir, who simply never got around to it. I can actually imagine him telling Mardil “Stop bugging me. I’ll marry when I return from dealing with the Witch-King.” Or a more poetic variant thereof.
Ar-Pharazôn is trickier to explain. Pharazôn was married, but the marriage was a political one… and despite getting all the way to old age, he never produced an Heir. In fact, his theoretical Heir was actually his wife, Miriel… who was also the Faithful candidate for the throne*. After that? We haven’t the foggiest. The only other childless Númenorean monarch, the unmarried Tar-Telperiën, at least had a nephew waiting in the wings.
*Pharazôn actually seems to be less vicious than he normally gets credit for. A crueller man would have got himself an Heir, then executed his wife as a potential source of plots against his reign. As it is, I almost wonder if he saw himself as a genuine Unifier figure, merging the competing factions of the realm in order to avoid further civil war.
So… why didn’t Ar-Pharazôn produce an Heir? Thematically, it makes perfect sense… why would the King who wants to live forever want an Heir? He doesn’t want to think about his own mortality, and a Heir only becomes relevant if he dies. But getting childless to old age, in a marriage, is notable. He wasn’t in Eärnur’s situation – he already had a woman in his bed. All he had to do was have regular sex with her… and from what we know of Pharazôn, it was not as if Miriel would have been in a position to refuse him.
There are a number of possible explanations:
- Either the King or the Queen were infertile. Possible, but one could imagine this leading to a Henry VIII scenario, whereby the King starts going through wives in search of an Heir. After all, if there is one ruler in Tolkien’s Catholic-flavoured world whom one could imagine pulling a Henry VIII, it is Pharazon, the fellow who broke laws to marry his cousin. But he doesn’t try to switch wives. He sticks with Miriel until the end.
- A medical condition, a la Louis XVI. But one imagines that the most powerful man in the world had decent doctors on hand.
- Miriel secretly aborts her pregnancies. We can dismiss this one. While I could imagine Pharazon as Henry VIII, a supposedly sympathetic Queen engaging in abortions would be unthinkable in Tolkien’s setting.
- He procrastinates, like Eärnur, since as noted, to think about Heirs is to think about Death. The problem here is that Pharazon doesn’t actually need to think about Heirs in order to produce one. All he needs to do is to enjoy sex with Miriel for its own sake, and an Heir will inevitably follow, assuming that both partners are fertile. And yet Pharazon makes it to old age with no children, while spending decades sleeping beside a woman. Nor was he away on campaign his entire reign – it wasn’t as if the man lacked the time to impregnate his wife.
- Elendil is a liar and the Akallabêth is vile Faithful propaganda. Miriel declines to sleep with her husband, and Pharazon politely respects her wishes. As funny as this scenario is, I don’t buy it.
- Pharazon actually doesn’t like to sleep with women. In short, he’s homosexual or asexual, and after a likely initial consummation of his marriage, he let Miriel do her own thing while he did his. I think this is the most interesting explanation… hence my crackpot theory.
I hope I have at least provided some rationale for my headcanon. But let’s go a step further with the speculation. Is Pharazon homosexual or asexual? Please note that I do not wish to offend anyone here.
Asexuality probably fits Tolkien’s own themes better, in that for all Pharazon’s dreams of living forever, he actually turns himself into a dead-end with no real continuation in this world. This would also make Pharazon an interesting contrast with a ‘spiritual’ celibate like Frodo Baggins, whose lack of sexuality is arguably thematically tied with a rejection of the physical world, rather than a desperate embracing of it.
A homosexual Pharazon runs the danger of falling into the Villainous Homosexual trope, but I think offers an additional explanation for how Sauron was able to seduce him (cue fanfiction – and Eru only knows who was the top in that relationship). Since the King was also incredibly popular with his people, this would also say something interesting about Númenorean cultural norms in the Second Age. A dash of Ancient Greece, perhaps, minus the misogyny?
So yeah. While Haleth of the Haladin is generally thought of as the closest Tolkien comes to Queer representation (in her case, a potential Lesbian), I do indeed think it plausible that the mighty Ar-Pharazôn the Golden is another contender. Albeit one that is considerably more problematic.