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Author Topic: Aragorn : when Estel faces Death
Eluchil
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It appeared that, in another thread started by our dear Arien, we went a little bit too far from the original issue. While starting to contradict someone else's view on Aragorn's acceptance of Death, I developed the following "hypothesis" (for me, with regard of Tolkien's comments, this is not an hypothesis but a fact; see point 4), which can be summarised as : Aragorn's acceptance of death is a sign and an act of Estel, or Trust in Eru. Some people (thanks WT, but also all the others for their very well appreciated support [] ) asked me to create a new post on this issue in the LotR forum. Here it is []

1. Estel, or one of Aragorn's epessi

Let's start with Aragorn's other name, Estel.

quote:
But Ivorwen, his wife, who was also foresighted, answered: "The more need of haste! The days are darkening before the storm, and great things are to come. If these two wed now, hope may be born for our people; but if they delay, it will not come while this age lasts."

The Tale of Aragorn and Arwen.

Note the "for", that's not an "of", and I think it's not neutral. But that's another issue.
quote:
Then Aragorn, being now the Heir of Isildur, was taken with his mother to dwell in the house of Elrond; and Elrond took the place of his father and came to love him as a son of his own. But he was called Estel, that is "Hope", and his true name and lineage were kept secret at the bidding of Elrond; for the Wise then knew that the Enemy was seeking to discover the Heir of Isildur, if any remained upon earth.

Ibid.

quote:
And Arwen said: "Dark is the Shadow, and yet my heart rejoices; for you, Estel, shall be among the great whose valour will destroy it."
But Aragorn answered: "Alas! I cannot foresee it, and how it may come to pass is hidden from me. Yet with your hope I will hope. And the Shadow I utterly reject. But neither, lady, is the Twilight for me; for I am mortal, and if you will cleave to me, Evenstar, then the Twilight you must also renounce."

Ibid.

quote:
"Yet there may be a light beyond the darkness; and if so, I would have you see it and be glad."
'But she answered only with this linnod:
Ónen i-Estel Edain, ú-chebin estel anim.*

[footnote] 'I gave Hope to the Dúnedain, I have kept no hope for myself.'

Ibid.

2. Estel ? Hope ?

What is that light beyond the darkness ? What is the reason for the heart to rejoice when dark is the Shadow ? What is that kind of hope when the days are darkening before the storm ? Is that just :
quote:
'An expectation of good, which though uncertain has some foundation in what is known? Then we have none.'
'That is one thing that Men call "hope",' said Finrod. 'Amdir we call it, "looking up".

Athrabeth Finrod ah Andreth.

This is obviously not this one, as the Dunedain's situation is so desperate and as Aragorn can't see how to destroy the Shadow. This is, as Aragorn's other name illustrates it, Estel :
quote:
But there is another which is founded deeper. Estel we call it, that is "trust". It is not defeated by the ways of the world, for it does not come from experience, but from our nature and first being. If we are indeed the Eruhin, the Children of the One, then He will not suffer Himself to be deprived of His own, not by any Enemy, not even by ourselves. This is the last foundation of Estel, which we keep even when we contemplate the End: of all His designs the issue must be for His Children's joy.

Ibid.

quote:
Therefore in the last resort the Elves were obliged to rest on 'naked estel' (as they said): the trust in Eru, that whatever He designed beyond the End would be recognized by each fëa as wholly satisfying (at the least).
[...]

More probably, they were not informed by the will or design of Eru, who appears in the Elvish tradition to demand two things from His Children (of either Kindred): belief in Him, and proceeding from that, hope or trust in Him (called by the Eldar estel).

Commentary on the Athrabeth.

Hope beyond hope, indeed.
quote:
Thus the years drew on to the War of the Ring; of which more is told elsewhere: how the means unforeseen was revealed whereby Sauron might be overthrown, and how hope beyond hope was fulfilled.

The Tale of Aragorn and Arwen.

So, let's summarised : in the Legendarium, there is a distinction between amdir and Estel, the later one being "Hope beyond hope", "trust in Eru". And in a very dark period, when dispair is so close, someone receives the name "Estel". He is then "Hope beyond hope" and "trust in Eru".

3. Aragorn's acceptance of Death

Let's now turn to Aragorn's acceptance of death. His ancestors, the Númenoreans, couldn't accept death.
quote:
But the fear of death grew ever darker upon them, and they delayed it by all means that they could; and they began to build great houses for their dead, while their wise men laboured unceasingly to discover if they might the secret of recalling life, or at the least of the prolonging of Men's days. Yet they achieved only the art of preserving incorrupt the dead flesh of Men, and they filled all the land with silent tombs in which the thought of death was enshrined in the darkness.

Akallabêth.

This fear is a mistake and is clearly related to Estel.
quote:
For these reasons the Elves were less sympathetic than Men expected to the lack of hope (or estel) in Men faced by death.

Commentary on the Athrabeth.

Aragorn doesn't fear death, the Gift of Men. He knows that his end is drawing near.
quote:
As Queen of Elves and Men she dwelt with Aragorn for six-score years in great glory and bliss; yet at last he felt the approach of old age and knew that the span of his life-days was drawing to an end, long though it had been.

The Tale of Aragorn and Arwen

And he knows the consequence if he doesn't face this fact
quote:
"Not before my time," he answered. "For if I will not go now, then I must soon go perforce. And Eldarion our son is a man full-ripe for kingship."

Ibid.

He had an exceptionnal life, defeated the Dark Lord, reigned "in great glory and bliss", and knows that it's the end, that it's time for the bill to be paid.
quote:
At last, Lady Evenstar, fairest in this world, and most be-loved, my world is fading. Lo! we have gathered, and we have spent, and now the time of payment draws near."

Ibid.

He even understands his ancestors' mistake, and his chance.
quote:
Nay, lady, I am the last of the Númenoreans and the latest King of the Elder Days; and to me has been given not only a span thrice that of Men of Middle-earth, but also the grace to go at my will, and give back the gift. Now, therefore, I will sleep.

Ibid.

How can he face death like that ?
quote:
"So it seems," he said. "But let us not be overthrown at the final test, who of old renounced the Shadow and the Ring. In sorrow we must go, but not in despair. Behold! we are not bound for ever to the circles of the world, and beyond them is more than memory, Farewell!"

Ibid.

The answer is thus hope. What kind of hope ? Amdir or Estel ? Concerning death, he can't rely on an "expectation of good, which though uncertain has some foundation in what is known", so it must be Estel, "Hope beyond hope", "trust in Eru". Here's the key for understanding Aragorn's acceptance of death; Aragorn doesn't fear death because he has Estel, he even is Estel himself, and he has trust in Eru. Whatever death can be, Aragorn knows that it's not something evil.

4. Is Tolkien confirming this ?

Here we see what the Legendarium says on this issue. Can that be confirmed by some external views, and first of them, by Tolkien ?
Yes, that definitely can be :
On fear of Death as a lack of Estel, and on Aragorn's behaviour :
quote:
It was also the Elvish (and uncorrupted Númenórean) view that a "good" Man would or should die voluntarily by surrender with trust before being compelled (as did Aragorn).

Letters n° 212.

quote:
In his unpublished letter to Eileen Elgar, begun 22 September 1963, he says that although no one knew the purposes of the One in regard to Men beyond the end of the world, or beyond their death, Aragorn trusted that they were good, and that if he and Arwen bound themselves in obedience to that trust they would be reunited.

The Lord of the Rings : A Reader's Companion.

On what Tolkien meant here :
quote:
Here I am only concerned with Death as part of the nature, physical and spiritual, of Man, and with Hope without guarantees. That is why I regard the tale of Arwen and Aragorn as the most important of the Appendices; it is pan of the essential story, and is only placed so, because it could not be worked into the main narrative without destroying its structure: which is planned to be 'hobbito-centric', that is, primarily a study of the ennoblement (or sanctification) of the humble.

Letters n° 181.

NB1 : I have been accused by someone of concocting 'wild "messiah" theories' ... Let me say : I'm not a Christian, I'm an Atheist; but don't forget that Tolkien was a Catholic, and that, in Catholicism, Hope (Estel, according to its definition) is one of the three Theological Virtues.
NB2 I'm backed by Hammond and Scull, checked by Christopher Tolkien (and Flieger seems to share this point of view).
NB3 : Varna ( [] ) made a very interesting point on the time of writing of the two main texts quoted here. I'm more and more convinced, although I have no proof of that, that the appearence of the name "Estel" in The Tale of Aragorn and Arwen (very late appearance, according to Christopher Tolkien, in HoMe XII) is contemporeanous with the early drafts of the Athrabeth Finrod ah Andreth (which, according to Christopher Tolkien, could be as early as 1955). But, as I said, I can't prove it ...
NB4 : I'm not a native speaker, so please forgive my orthograph or grammar mistake(s).
NB5 : those Ibid. are not, as someone stupidly thinks, a mark of arrogance. I just want to be precised about my quotations.

Edit 1 : mispelling ...
Edit 2 : that's my first thread here []

[ 01-14-2007, 04:57 PM: Message edited by: Eluchil ]

From: Menegroth, deep under the sea | Registered: May 2006  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
Roll of Honor Varnafindë
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Very good study, Eluchil! []

Yes, I thought that the story of Aragorn and Arwen was written before the story of Finrod and Andreth. But if as you say, the name Estel was a late addition to the first story, and the first drafts for the second story were as early as 1955, then the concepts could be contemporary in the two stories.

I don't know whether it's possible to prove it ...

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Eluchil
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Varna, as I said, I'm not sure of that. But it would give a nice explanation to that latest emendation of The Tale of Aragorn and Arwen.

And I forgot my conclusion :
If Estel (defined as it is) is the relative answer to Death, for us, Mortal Men, then it is one of the most beautiful teachings of the Tale of Arda []

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Roll of Honor Varnafindë
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And it would explain better why Death is called The Gift of Men.
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Roll of Honor Belegurth
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I have always liked the concept of hope beyond hope, as it was also portrayed in Flieger's "Splintered Light".

Basically, I just want to give a big [] to Eluchil for his excellent work.

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The Witch-King of Angmar
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I still say you're still confusing hope, with faith. Note that you omitted the context of the above quote:

quote:
Then for a season they wandered together in the glades of Lothlórien, until it was time for him to depart. And on the evening of Midsummer Aragorn, Arathorn's son, and Arwen daughter of Elrond went to the fair hill, Cerin Amroth, in the midst of the land, and they walked unshod on the undying grass with elanor and niphredil about their feet And there upon that hill they looked east to the Shadow and west to the Twilight, and they plighted their troth and were glad.
'And Arwen said: "Dark is the Shadow, and yet my heart rejoices; for you, Estel, shall be among the great whose valour will destroy it."
[And then:]
' But Aragorn answered: "Alas! I cannot foresee it, and how it may come to pass is hidden from me. Yet with your hope I will hope. And the Shadow I utterly reject. But neither, lady, is the Twilight for me; for I am mortal, and if you will cleave to me, Evenstar, then the Twilight you must also renounce."

Thus, while Aragorn could not forsee it, Arwen could.

As for the use of "estel" meaning "trust," this is a different definition of the term-- which would be out-of-context to apply to the story in the manner of faith. Consider the following:

quote:
Men could not a second time be saved by any such embassy, and for the treason of Númenor there was no easy absolving.
Here the term "saved" refers to saving Men from their own actions; for in both cases, this refers to salvation from an evil lord of their own choosing.

In the War of Wrath, Men were saved from Melkor-- with whom most had sided; naturally they could not be saved a second time from Sauron, whom they likewise had chosen; likewise, while the Men of Númenor technically would not be saved a second time, since they had not sided with Melkor, "for the treason of Númenor there could be no easy absolving."
Hence, Men in general could not be saved a second time, while Númenor had committed actual treason against Eru.

Otherwise, there was no reason why Men should not be saved any number of times: however note the phrase that "Men could not a second time be saved by any such embassy--" as opposed to Elves, who did not side with Melkor at all, and thus were permitted to depart to safety in Aman (i.e. Divine deliverance of "keepers of the faith" prior to "tribulations").

As such, the reason that Men were saved by the Istari rather than the Valar, was to give them the chance to choose freely, given mere inspiration-- rather than delivering them outright, which would defeat the purpose entirely.

Hence, the term "hope" must apply not to divine deliverance-- for Men could not be saved from their own acts by supreme intervention; but rather "absolving" of such through the leadership of their rightful heir.
Hence, only by choosing to side against evil-- not Sauron per se, but evil-- even "necessary" evil, for they could have easily defeated Sauron by simply using the Ring, but becoming evil in the process; thus only by choosing to forego evil itself, could Men be able to triumph over him. This is why Frodo could not simply "lend" the Ring to Boromir, in the hope that Boromir could give it back to him afterward, and then he could destroy it; once again, one can't defeat and enemy through evil, without becoming evil in the process.

And hence the "hope" was not one in faith per se, i.e. that Eru would always save men from evil regardless of their actions to choose evil, given a proper excuse-- but rather in the ability to lead Men to choose to resist the temptation to it, in spite of any excuses.

While some element of intervention against evil did exist, this was only possible as a result of this primary choice to reject it in the first place: for example at Mt. Doom, Frodo uses the power of the Ring over Gollum, and thus becomes subject to it; as Tolkien states in Letters #81 )in regards to British hypocrisy in opposing Hitler), "You can't fight the Enemy with his own Ring without turning into an Enemy."

As a result, Frodo falters at the last; however he is delivered from his temptation due to his prior choices to spare Gollum, as Gandalf (the Istar) inspired him to do-- but he pays by losing his finger.

In contrast, Aragorn rejects the Ring entirely, and chooses to resist evil and accept his fate; and his kingdom and people are hence absolved.

In conclusion, the terms "hope" and "faith" are not synonymous-- at least for Men, while they might be so for Elves (who lack Men's freedom). That's a signifcant difference, however-- i.e. that while those without choice can trust, those with choice can merely hope.

Therefore the implication is not that men may do as they please and still expect divine salvation, but that such depends upon exercising their freedom by choosing in accordance with divine will-- whatever the circumstances; and not by simply reasoning according to them, for Men's reasons will naturally follow the course of greatest temptation in a crisis.

Consider Denethor, a wise man and great leader by any account-- but an example of one too trusting in his own reason:

quote:
‘What then is your wisdom?’ said Gandalf.
‘Enough to perceive that there are two follies to avoid. To use this thing is perilous. At this hour, to send it in the hands of a witless halfling into the land of the Enemy himself, as you have done, and this son of mine, that is madness.’
‘And the Lord Denethor what would he have done?’
‘Neither. But most surely not for any argument would he have set this thing at a hazard beyond all but a fool’s hope, risking our utter ruin, if the Enemy should recover what he lost. Nay, it should have been kept, hidden, hidden dark and deep. Not used, I say, unless at the uttermost end of need, but set beyond his grasp, save by a victory so final that what then befell would not trouble us, being dead.’
‘You think, as is your wont, my lord, of Gondor only,’ said Gandalf. ‘Yet there are other men and other lives, and time still to be. And for me, I pity even his slaves.’
‘And where will other men look for help, if Gondor falls?’ answered Denethor. ‘If I had this thing now in the deep vaults of this citadel, we should not then shake with dread under this gloom, fearing the worst, and our counsels would be undisturbed. If you do not trust me to endure the test, you do not know me yet.’
‘Nonetheless I do not trust you,’ said Gandalf. ‘Had I done so, I could have sent this thing hither to your keeping and spared myself and others much anguish. And now hearing you speak I trust you less, no more than Boromir. Nay, stay your wrath! I do not trust myself in this, and I refused this thing, even as a freely given gift. You are strong and can still in some matters govern yourself, Denethor; yet if you had received this thing, it would have overthrown you. Were it buried beneath the roots of Mindolluin, still it would burn your mind away, as the darkness grows, and the yet worse things follow that soon shall come upon us.’

As such, it is only by rejecting evil utterly, even as a means to defeat it-- and in the direst of circumstances without exception-- can salvation be attained.

[ 07-24-2006, 08:50 PM: Message edited by: The Witch-King of Angmar ]

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Eluchil
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Wiki,
quote:
In conclusion, the terms "hope" and "faith" are not synonymous-
You really didn't need to write a long post on this, as one of my quotations should have shown you that I'm not making this mistake :
quote:
More probably, they were not informed by the will or design of Eru, who appears in the Elvish tradition to demand two things from His Children (of either Kindred): belief in Him, and proceeding from that, hope or trust in Him (called by the Eldar estel).

Commentary on the Athrabeth.

Hope and Faith are two of the three Theological Virtues, by the way.

I actually think this single quote is enough to answer your post []

Edit 1 : Varna, I fully agree on the Gift of Men []

Edit 2 : Thanks Belegurth []

[ 07-25-2006, 03:21 AM: Message edited by: Eluchil ]

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The Witch-King of Angmar
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But you're confusing hope in Eru, with hope in a man or Men; that's quite a serious mistake.

quote:
I actually think this single quote is enough to answer your post.
As usual, you're drawing unwarranted conclusions from very limited and ambiguous passages via wishful thinking, in direct contradiction to all evidence to the contrary; there's no need to deny what you simply don't understand-- although it wouldn't hurt to read it anyway.
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Eluchil
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Ah ! now that I'm not confusing Hope and Faith anymore, I'm confusing hope in Men with Hope in Eru ... interesting ... []

As for your comment on my wishfull-thinking : have you really read the three quotations from Tolkien's letters ??

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Eluchil
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Double posting, but Richard C. West also agrees on this. And the final words of his contribution to The LotR 1954-2004 - Scholarship in Honor of Richard E. Blackwelder show that he's not the only one.
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Hamfast Gamgee
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I think that I'm right in saying that Aragorn's death scene is the last thing which Tolkien ever wrote. At least in terms of chronology. I'm not so sure that he didn't write more material set before this event.
In particular with regard to Numenor. There seems to be two points of view at work. On the one hand the Numenoreans are presented as wicked fools who could not resist the perils of death. On the other, their is a little hint of understanding of this from Tolkien when Arwen says that she at last understands the downfall of his people and that if death is indeed the gift of the one to man, then it is a bitter one to swallow. It seems a little odd to me that this should be said right at the end of Tolkien's works, which seems to contradict his Christian principles a little.

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Roll of Honor Varnafindë
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quote:
I think that I'm right in saying that Aragorn's death scene is the last thing which Tolkien ever wrote. At least in terms of chronology. I'm not so sure that he didn't write more material set before this event.
It's the latest event he described in any detail in his published works - apparently he started on something to have taken place a few hundred years after Aragorn, but soon abandoned it. Is it just mentioned in HoME, or is any part of it published there?

He did indeed write lots of material set before this event - after LotR was published, he went back to his Silmarillion texts and carried on rewriting them, both changing existing texts and writing new texts. Lots of this can be found in HoME.

I've seen a list somewhere of all the HoME texts sorted chronologically according to when they were written - I should find my print-out of that list ...

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Eluchil
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Hamfast Gamgee :
quote:
which seems to contradict his Christian principles a little.
I'm not sure to understand what you mean; after all, Aragorn died willingly.

Varna :
quote:
Is it just mentioned in HoME, or is any part of it published there?
The whole text (The New Shadow) is published in HoMe XII.

[ 12-22-2006, 12:09 PM: Message edited by: Eluchil ]

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Hamfast Gamgee
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Aragorn died willingly, but I'm not sure that Arwen did. Did she regret her choice at the end? She even said she showed sympathy with the Numenoreans, which contradicts a little the opinion which is stated in The Akallabeth.
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Eluchil
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I think Tolkien played on that. And if you compare Aragorn's death ("Then a great beauty was revealed in him ...") to Arwen's ("... and the light of her eyes was quenched, and it seemed to her people that she had become cold and grey as nightfall in winter that comes without a star"), you can clearly see, according to Tolkien's belief, which behaviour is the right one.
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Tuor
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It does seem a little strange for a Catholic doesn't it? Suicide is supposed to be a sin, but in this case Tolkien glorifies the act of a person taking his own life.

One might argue that this suicide was a gift from God, but it is still a person chosing the exact moment of death. Arwen, on the other hand, suffered the pains of old age and suffered what we would call a "normal death".

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I think the implication is more that he chose to accept death when it came for him, rather than trying to fight it off.

-~-~-~-~-~-~-~-~-~-~-
Don't say we have come now to the end; White shores are calling.
You and I will meet again.
Across the sea a pale moon rising; the ships have come to carry you home.
And all will turn to silver glass; A light on the water
Grey Ships pass into the West.

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Tuor
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Death did not come for him. If this was the case, then he would not have a choice. It is one thing to say "Death does not frighten me" as opposed to, "I'm just going to get old, I should willing accept death rather than suffer the consequences of old age".

[ 12-30-2006, 01:59 PM: Message edited by: Tuor ]

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Anorgil
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quote:
Suicide is supposed to be a sin, but in this case Tolkien glorifies the act of a person taking his own life.
The description of suicide by Gandalf in "The Pyre of Denethor" implies nothing glorious.

"Authority is not given to you, Steward of Gondor, to order the hour of your death... And only the heathen kings, under the dominion of the Dark Power, did thus, slaying themselves in pride and despair, murdering their kin to ease their own death" (The Lord of the Rings, "The Pyre of Denethor," paragraph 31).

Intentionally or not, Tolkien has invited comparisons between Denethor's death and Aragorn's: Both died of their own free will, but in much different ways.

I find it interesting that for Aragorn death was just a matter of falling asleep and never waking up; while Denethor couldn't die except by violence.

[ 07-20-2018, 01:26 PM: Message edited by: Anorgil ]

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