And then wonder took him, and a great joy; and he cast his sword up in the sunlight and sang as he caught it. And all eyes followed his gaze, and behold! upon the foremost ship a great standard broke, and the wind displayed it as she turned towards the Harlond. There flowered a White Tree, and that was for Gondor; but Seven Stars were about it, and a high crown above it, the signs of Elendil that no lord had borne for years beyond count. And the stars flamed in the sunlight, for they were wrought of gems by Arwen daughter of Elrond; and the crown was bright in the morning, for it was wrought of mithril and gold.
Eomer spotting the Arwen’s Standard of Gondor from the battlefield of Pelennor. (Return of the King, Chapter 6: The Battle of the Pelennor Fields)
I have long been struck by this passage, since first reading it as a child. The influence of Tolkien’s descriptions sparked a life-long interest in embroidery and decorative arts. So, as odd as it seems, one of the things I was *most* looking forward to seeing in ROTK was WETA Workshop’s interpretation of the Standard of Gondor.
In the months leading up to ROTK there was a bit of confusion about the banner. As we know, the Dunedain do not come to Aragorn at Dunharrow to deliver Arwen’s gift (or advice about the Paths of the Dead), nor in the filmed version does Elrond seemingly hand it over along with Narsil. I had spent a lot of time wondering how and where it would be delivered… not really allowing myself to contemplate the question of “Would” it be delivered at all!
During the course of the films we see many variations of the white tree of Gondor: Boromir’s vambraces, on the leather vests of the Rangers of Ithilien, and on the metal breastplates of the Gondor soldiers. On marble plinths within Gondor itself. It is seen on the white banner of the steward, and on the sable and silver livery of the Citadel Guards. There are varying styles: Art Nouveau and Art Deco, trees with William Morris’ Arts and Craft simplicity…. But none are *the* standard, featuring the very exclusive crown, reserved for the kings of Gondor.
During my first viewing of the movie, I spent a good portion of it waiting for the stunning moment when the combatants on Pelennor Field realize they are not overrun by Corsairs, but instead witnessing the actual Return of the King. And then mourning that it didn’t come. Sitting in the theater, eyes darting about… Taking in the story while inventorying the props — very stressful!
And then… there it is. Flying above Aragorn and the forces of the West as they march upon the Black Gate. Just as described: white tree on a sable field, seven stars, and a king’s crown. But.. WAIT! How did it get there??
But… wait some more. It’s not ‘precisely’ as described. The stars are not mithril, nor is the crown. It’s just a regular issue king’s banner, unearthed from some dusty closet out back of the Citadel.
But, just as ‘hope unlooked for’ is a constant thread throughout LOTR, I gave up a bit too quickly. Like the cinematic Aragorn, I endured through the coronation scene wondering where the heck Arwen was (as a side comment, why on earth would she skulk in the back when she could/should be enjoying the coronation at Aragorn’s side, given that she had given up so much to be with him and Elrond’s insistence that he be the king he was born to be… but, I digress).
And then suddenly, while the camera’s attention is fixed on Legolas, a slight shift of the frame reveals a glimpse of a tree and then Arwen appears, bearing an obviously hand-crafted banner.
Unlike the description offered by Tolkien, we are given quite a different (both in arrival and appearance) ‘Standard’ of Gondor. Not argent on sable, but instead a sumptuous white-on-cream/white quilted banner.
The banner itself is NOT precisely a “standard.” Shaped as an elongated shield, with an exaggerated tail, it is properly known as a “Gonfalon.” [OED definition] The interlacing pattern that borders the piece appears to be hand-painted. The material itself is most likely hand-washed silk.
Unlike the stylized trees appearing on Gondorian armor and signage, Arwen’s tree is more organic and fluid — in keeping with the style of Rivendell, and similar to the trees featured on her bedroom wall hangings. The embroidered branches twine and expand into a crown. This tree is in full flower, symbolizing the rebirth of the kingdom of Gondor. The flowers themselves are of lovely silk ribbon embroidery. These flowers, while not mentioned in the description of the banner, echo a drawing of the tree made by the professor for a proposed “Return of the King” dust jacket.
The stars are irridescent white/silver thread in a laid-stitch, giving them a three-dimensional appearance. They are 8-pointed, which conforms to Tolkien’s guidelines for heraldry, with 6-8 “points” in a heraldric device being reserved for Kings. [Emblems and Heraldry in Tolkien]
Over the years, much discussion has taken place concerning the arrangement of the stars. Should the stars encircle the tree, or be placed in a flat row (“in chief”) above the tree. Tolkien, oddly enough, does not say outright. The dustjacket drawing shows the stars “strewn” upon the field. In Gondor, we see several examples of what is known in heraldry as “in annulo,” which means arranged in a curve as if drawn on a ring, or “chevron,” in an upended point. Arwen’s banner features the “arched” style, where the stars mantle the primary device of the tree. [Heraldic Atlas]
The crown of Gondor appears to be crafted from metalwork embroidery. It is difficult to tell from the pictures, but could also possibly be embroidery over fabric applique. The crown, while not matching the descriptions of the physical crown, does correlate to Tolkien’s description of the standard image. Depicted is a silvery band with intricate designs, and three “wings” of golden feathers, centered by the likeness of a jewel. “The crown was bright in the morning, for it was wrought of mithril and gold.”
While substantially different from the banner we (I?) expected, the end result is lovely and impressive.