Slate’s top error-spotter delivers another great correction

Back in 2007, Slate did a rare thing: it profiled a reader who was a prolific spotter of errors in Slate articles.

Jack Shafer, at the time Slate’s media critic, wrote a column that described regular reader RM “Auros” Harman as “A walking, talking, error-correction algorithm ….”

“Auros is easily one of the most prolific ‘gotcha’ artists currently submitting corrections to the magazine,” Shafer wrote.

Almost seven years later, Harman is still practising his art, and Slate is still giving him his due.

This gem was appended today to a story by  (headline: “Are Hobbits Human?”):

Correction, Jan. 2, 2014: The caption for this story originally stated that Arwen and Aragorn are half-elf and half-human. Aragorn is three-fourths human and one-fourth elf. Arwen is 3/16 human, 25/32 elf, and 1/32 Maia. Thanks to reader Auros Harman for the genealogical analysis.

It’s great when a publication credits a person for spotting an error, and lord knows Harman is deserving of recognition. He consistently helps improve Slate’s content, for no fee and with good humor.

Slate science and health editor Laura Helmuth also shared the correction on Twitter, and offered yet another tip of the hat to Harman. This inspired a reply from Harman:

Cheers to smart-asses everywhere!

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  • Auros Harman

    Yeah, a friend of mine on FB brought up the Imrahil bit as well, and argued that the “only three pairings” thing should be seen as an unreliable narration by the in-world author of Aragorn and Arwen’s story, heightening the romance and historical importance of the tale.

    Clearly Tolkien’s lore is at no risk of being forgotten any time soon. :-)

  • Tom Burnett

    OK, I just can’t let this die. Something about the “only three elf-man” pairings nagged at me, so I finally found a reference in Unfinished Tales to the story of Amroth and Nimrodel, and a comment made by Legolas to Prince Imrahil of Dol Amroth to the effect that in looking at him it appeared that “not all” of the elves apparently had left that land centuries earlier. An elf lady-in-waiting to Nimrodel supposedly had had a child with one of Imrahil’s ancestors. So while there were only three high elves (Luthien, Idril and Arwen) who crossed the gap, there could have been a lot more lesser elves, so it’s possible one of Aragorn’s maternal ancestors could have been an elf.

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  • Auros Harman

    38 to Valandil is what I count on the House of Isildur chart, so I think that’s not a discrepancy. 15 back to Aranarth, then 15 more to Amlaith, then 8 to Valandil. :-)

  • Tom Burnett

    And I think the descent from Valandil to Aragorn has to be considered exclusively through males. The law in Numenor allowed first-born daughters to rule, but it appears the kings of Arnor and chieftains of the Dunedain of the North was decided on agnatic primogeniture — unless you believe that through 38 generations there was never a daughter born first.

  • Tom Burnett

    And thinking about it some more, there may be a discrepancy. A footnote in Unfinished Tales, in the chapter “Isildur and the Gladden Fields,” it noted Aragorn was a descendant in the 38th degree from Valandil, Isildur’s youngest son. So the numbers don’t quite add up. The problem comes in deciding what is considered canon. Christopher Tolkien made some assumptions/decisions in editing the Silmarillion that he admitted in the 12-volume History of Middle of Middle Earth were contrary to some late-in-life changes his father made. Incorporating them would have meant a wholesale restructuring of Silmarillion, putting it at odds to some of the indexes in LOTR. I’m assuming that Tolkien Gateway goes by the latest changes; I’ll have to explore it. Thanks again for the discussion.

  • Tom Burnett

    Yup — 69 generations is what I get also, and thanks for those links. I’d known about the direct line of kings of Numenor but that was the first I’d ever seen of even a partial line of the lords of Andunie. Now as for Arwen, I saw a debate years ago on a Tolkien BBS about her ancestry, breaking down the elf bloodlines between Noldorin, Telerin, Vanyarin and Sindarin to an exactitude I can’t match here. If I can find the conclusion, I’ll post it.

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  • Auros Harman

    Though I guess maybe the dashed line coming down from Aranarth to Dírhael is obscuring generations, because without any elves involved, that difference would be peculiar. Anyways. Back to work…

  • Auros Harman

    Actually, stitching together these three data sets:

    http://tolkiengateway.net/wiki/Kings_of_N%C3%BAmenor
    http://tolkiengateway.net/wiki/Lords_of_And%C3%BAni%C3%AB
    http://tolkiengateway.net/wiki/House_of_Isildur

    It looks to me like from Elros to Aragorn II, you have at least two
    different counts, because both Arathorn II and Gilrael are descendants
    of Aranarth, first Chieftain of the Dúnedain. I think I’m getting 69
    generations from Elros to Aranarth, and then an additional 3 by way of
    Gilrael, or 15 by way of Arathorn.

  • Auros Harman

    Well, I’m happy to bow to your more detailed nerdery. Feel free to email citations to corrections@slate.com and tell them I sent you.

    Either way, I was clearly wrong on the patrilineal side, because of the patrilineal umpty-great-grandfather being Elros, at the founding of the Dúnedain kingdom of Númenor.

  • Tom Burnett

    Heh, nerd debate continues. “Eledhwen” was Morwen’s descriptive because she was said to have looked like an elf-child, with the “eledh-” meaning elf and “-wen” meaning sheen or appearance. As for Ivorwen being an elf, I’ve never seen any evidence of that, and it was written the union of Aragorn and Arwen was only the third such elf-human pairing — Idril and Tuor (paternal grandparents of Elros and Elrond) and Luthien and Beren (maternal great-grandparents) being the others. And to answer your question: Yes, I have read everything Tolkien wrote. ;-)

  • Auros Harman

    Hmm. I was mostly looking up info in the TolkienGateway.net wiki, though I
    did read the Silmarillion, a very long time ago. I have Aragorn’s
    grandparents being, on Arathorn’s side, Arador (who’s a descendant of Isildur, who
    cut off the ring at the end of the siege of Barad-dûr) and an
    unspecified human woman; and on Gilraen’s side, Dírhael (who is a
    “descendant of Aranarth, the first Chieftain of the Dúnedain” — I think
    pure human) and Ivorwen, who I think is an elf. Certainly the -wen
    ending, “maiden”, is used for some other elven women: Arwen, Eärwen, and
    I think Morwen / Eledhwen, though I’m a little unclear on whether she’s
    actually elvish or simply named that way to suggest that she’s as
    lovely as an elf-maid. ( http://tolkiengateway.net/wiki/Eledhwen )

    There’s also the fact that fractionality of parentage is a bad way to get at the likelihood of carrying any particular gene, since the set of genes that distinguish elves from humans might be heavily clustered on a small number of chromosomes.

    And also the fact that, you know, it’s fiction. :-)

  • Tom Burnett

    Sorry, but Auros is wrong here. It’s far more complicated. For Aragorn, you’d have to go back about 58 generations of humans to his ancestor Elros, who was the brother of Arwen’s father, Elrond. Elros and Elrond were the sons of a father who was half-elf and half-man, and a mother who was a quarter Maia and three-quarters elf. Thus the percentage of elf in Aragorn would be less than 1/60th.