Ioreth is perhaps the most interesting supporting character of The Lord of the Rings. She appears an odd number of times during the events in Minas Tirith. At first she gives the impression of being an irritating old crone with a hearty devotion to old wives’ tales. “The hands of a king are the hands of a healer,” she repeats over and over. The words of the herb-master of the Houses of Healing imply that Ioreth’s ilk are scorned to some extent, since he relegates the merits of athelas to old wives’ nonsense. The herb-master, however, is proven wrong, similar to a number of other individuals who are shown that there is more to old wives’ tales than generally believed. In Rohan, for example, the Ents are legendary creatures of children’s stories; the Rohirrim are shocked to find that they are real.
By this, we see a little of Tolkien’s possible intent regarding Ioreth. He certainly did not agree that there is no truth in myths and legends, and by supporting her, he supports that opinion.
More than this, the old woman represents the common folk of Gondor. We never really meet anyone low in the Gondorian hierarchy, except for Bergil, and even his father is a member of the Guard of the Citadel – no mean position. Ioreth, however, has no high place in society; she is only a servant in the Houses of Healing. Her ideas and emotions represent those of an entire class apparently but not truly forgotten by Tolkien. All the people love Faramir, so Ioreth’s tears for him speak for the entire city. As well does she rejoice in the return of the king and praises Aragorn to her country relation; “our Elfstone”, she declares, “has a golden heart”.(1)
For Tolkien, minor characters are anything but minor.
(1) J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of the King (New York: Quality Paperback Club, 2001), 244.