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Q: I heard a rumor from another Tolkien fan at my school that Gothmog the Lord of the Balrogs was Morgoth's son. I don't believe this. Any help would be nice.

– gil-galad3434

A: In Tolkien's "Book of Lost Tales", the earliest version of the legends eventually presented as The Silmarillion, Gothmog is described as "lord of Balrogs, son of Melko" in the story of the fall of Gondolin. This designation was not seen again.

Eventually, as Tolkien realized that Morgoth could not create, but only corrupt, the idea that he could sire offspring would become untenable. Indeed, Tolkien eventually abandoned the idea that any of the Valar had children; for example, in the post-Lord of the Rings revisions to the Silmarillion legends, Tolkien regularly changed references to "Fionwë son of Manwë" to "Eönwë herald of Manwë." See, particularly, the discussion of the Valaquenta in the "later Silmarillion", in "Morgoth's Ring" (History of Middle-earth X).

Of course, by eliminating the long-standing concept of the Children of the Valar, Tolkien conferred a unique status upon the union of Melian and Thingol, making Luthien the only offspring of one of the Ainur, a soul uniquely created by Iluvatar to ennoble the races of Elves and Men.


Q: Hi! I have a question concerning the Elves. If some stayed in Middle-earth, and never took ship, would they just fade, or what? I think I read somewhere that as the men increased the Elves decreased, but I think that was from an early stage of Tolkien's writing, so as of now may not be accurate. Can you help me out?

– Thebagginsses


Q: Here is a question that has long puzzled me. How did the elves who remained in Middle-earth after the end of the Third Age "diminish"? At one point, I seem to recall Tolkien actually considered the idea that they physically became smaller and smaller, but he wisely rejected this. Or did he simply mean that the power and influence of the elf kingdoms, without the power of the three elvish rings, would become less? Also, am I correct in believing that (theoretically at least) some elves--those who have refused to take ship to the West--could still possibly exist in our world today?

Thanks for any answers you may have, and keep up the good work!

– Kathy


Q: I love the answers that you guys give and was hoping you could help answer me this question. Can Elves live in Middle-earth for as long as they want, and then decide to leave for Valinor when ever they feel like it? Or is there like a set time for all the Elves to depart from Middle-earth forever?

Thanks in advance!

– Jonathan Gray


Q: Did only the remaining Noldor leave Middle-earth at the end of the Third Age (including all Elrond's people), or did all the people of Lorien and Mirkwood leave as well? Secondly, did Cirdan and all the Elves living at the Grey Havens leave for Valinor?

– Gil-Galad

A: Tolkien used the phrase "fading of the Elves" in different ways, it seems. At most times, (e.g., when the Ainulindalë says that "the vision ceased ere the fullfilment of the Dominion of Men and the fading of the Firstborn") it evidently refers to the decline of the Elves as the dominant force in the events of Middle-earth. But in the noteworthy essay on the "Laws and Customs Among the Eldar" (found in "Morgoth's Ring", History of Middle-earth X), Tolkien presents the idea that as time passed, the spirit, or fëa, of the Elves would consume their bodies. "The end of this process is their 'fading', as Men have called it; for the body becomes at last, as it were, a mere memory held by the fëa; and that end has already been achieved in many regions of Middle-earth, so that the Elves are indeed deathlesss and may not be destroyed or changed.' Elsewhere in that essay we are told that the Eldar "say that ere Arda ends all the Eldalië on earth will have become as spirits invisble to mortal eyes, unless they will to be seen by some among Men into whose minds they may enter directly." Tolkien wrote this, not the Elves; and he may well have intended exactly the implication asked about above, that Elves still walk among us, unseen except by a fortunate few.

By no means all of the Elves would, nor could, leave Middle-earth. The silvan elves, in particular, had made their choice long ago and refused the Great Journey. This choice was irrevocable, but not regretted. Note Sam's words to Elanor in the Epilogue: "You came at the end of a great Age, Elanorellë; but though it's over, as we say, things don't really end sharp like that. It's more like a winter sunset. The High Elves have nearly all gone now with Elrond. But not quite all; and those that didn't go will wait now for a while. And the others, the ones that belong here, will last even longer." ("Sauron Defeated", History of Middle-earth IX). Legolas, as one of the Sindar, was entitled to take ship and seek the West, but his kinsfolk who were true Avari elves neither could nor would take such a journey.

It is notable that the Prologue to Lord of the Rings tells us that at Rivendell, at the beginning of the Fourth Age, "Though Elrond had departed, his sons long remained, together with some of the High-elven folk. It is said that Celeborn went to dwell there after the departure of Galadriel; but there is no record of the day when at last he sought the Grey Havens, and with him went the last living memory of the Elder Days in Middle-earth." We may conclude from this last sentence that none other of the Sindar who had lived in the First Age remained; and that until then, some Elves may well have continued to dwell at the Havens.


Q: Dear The One Ring,

Were there two mountain ranges known as the Grey Mountains--one being north of Erebor and one being on the west coast of Harad?


– Gil-Galad

A: I cannot find any reference to any mountains on the west coast of Harad; the only geographical feature I know of (other than the Harnen, evidently the border between south Gondor and Harad proper) is in the early map presented in "The Treason of Isengard" (History of Middle-earth VII), which shows a Haven of Umbar far to the south. This map, however is not at all consistent with the 'true' map that was eventually published, and may be considered apocryphal; Appendix A speaks of the "great cape and land-locked firth of Umbar. In any case, I can find no mention of any mountain range in Harad. Perhaps this is an invention for a role-playing game or similar activity?

In asking questions like this, it is always best to give a citation as to where you heard of the matter you are asking about.


Q: I have a question about why the men of Gondor named the pass that they themselves built into Mordor (I think) Cirith Ungol. For, assuming 'ungol' refers to Shelob, how did the men build the pass if Shelob was there? Surely they would have got eaten?! But if Shelob wasn't there, why name the pass "the spider's cleft'? Were there other spiders there? Or was there another name for it? I would love to hear thoughts on this.


– Armand

A: Of course, men did not build the pass, but the tower above it. The passage giving Shelob's history suggests that she had indeed been present even before Sauron, and a danger to Men using the path and tunnel when Minas Ithil was a fortress of the South Kingdom: "… long now had she been hungry, lurking in her den, while the power of Sauron grew, and light and living things forsook his borders; and the city in the valley was dead, and no Elf or Man came near, only the unhappy Orcs. Poor food and wary." It also appears that Shelob herself made the main tunnel: "Orcs go fast in tunnels, and this tunnel they knew well; for in spite of Shelob they were forced to use it often as the swiftest way from the Dead City over the mountains. In what far-off time the main tunnel and the great round pit had been made, where Shelob had taken up here abode in ages past, they did not know…". This also suggests that the straight and winding stairs were also Orc-work, to complete the path to Minas Morgul. Presumably the Gondorian guards only used the main road to Minas Ithil: "Its gate, upon the near south-eastern side, opened on a broad road … it turned southward and went winding down into the darkness to join the road that came over the Morgul Pass."

It seems plausible that the Gondorians knew of Shelob quite early on, and named the cleft (and lair, Torech Ungol) accordingly. Mordor was never a wholesome land, and guard duty within Mordor was doubtless considered "hazard duty" by those hardy souls who undertook to man the tower. For as the passage above suggests, yes, it does seem that the occasional unfortunate Man of Gondor strayed too close to her lair and became supper.


Q: I see many times throughout the books the words "wizard" or "wizardry." Now, Saruman and Gandalf are wizards, right? So, I always thought that wizards were good (with the exception of Saruman who turns to evil, but he was good in the beginning.) What confused me was in the book Return of the King, a little while before Aragorn takes the Paths of the Dead he looks into the palantir. When he tells the others what he did, Gimli says "You looked into that stone of wizardry!" It makes it look all of a sudden like wizardry is evil, or did Gimli just not know what he was talking about? One other time I saw it was when Gandalf said ( and I can't remember exactly where in the book) "If you meddle in the affairs of wizards you will face consequences" or something like that. What exactly is this whole wizard concept?

– Anonymous

A: As with any other special power, "good" or "evil" depends on the use of the power, not upon the power itself (the exception being, of course, the power of the One Ring, which was irrevocably evil because that was the nature of the power put into it as an object). "Wizardry" is rather a catch-all term spoken by mortals or Elves who don't necessarily understand (or who perhaps, like Elrond, do understand all too well) the nature of the power entrusted to Gandalf and Saruman and Radagast. It simply refers to the feats they can accomplish with their powers as Maia that are not available to mortals. So as you state, Gandalf remained "good," Saruman turned to "evil," and the "wizardry" of the palantiri could be used for good or evil, depending on the user. As for "Do not meddle in the affairs of wizards, for they are subtle and quick to anger," well, that could be said of a good many persons other than wizards, but the difference is that the wizard can use his power to make life particularly unpleasant for you if he so chooses, as we see with Wormtongue.


Q: We know that the one ring derived its power from Sauron, who imbued much of his own power into it. Although less so, the other great rings of power were quite potent as well. So my question is where did the other rings get their power from? Did other (less powerful) individuals transfer their own power into these rings or did they derive their power from some other source?

– Corwin

A: "Art for art's sake, and power and vision in unflawed correspondence." That's a paraphrase of Tolkien's comment in the Letters about the works of the Elves. They envisioned objects (or "artifacts" if you're into a more "fantasy"-based terminology) into which they could imbue natural power to augment their own and thus amplify their powers at times of need or desire to create. It is important to note that Sauron helped them figure out how to do this--to put their own personal power into objects that could then amplify the power still remaining in their spirits. As for whose power it was--Celebrimbor was responsible for the actual forging of the rings. I can't say for sure what individuals contributed spiritual power, as the rings clearly can be used by others than their makers--we see that they were given to Cirdan and Gil-galad before Gandalf and Elrond.


Q: I have read Tolkien's books many times and listen to the BBC books on tape. My friends who never read the books but saw the movies think I am prouncing the name incorrectly. Can you help on a couple or point me to a reference?

Legolas the movie was Leg-o-las but the BBC was Le-goal-as.

Denethor the movie was Den-na-thor, the BBC was De-neth-or.

Saruman the movie was Sah-roo-mon, the BBC was Sir-roo-man.

Was just curious.


– ML


Q: Hello, I have a question about Sméagol's name. In Peter Jackson's movies they prounounce the "ea" as one syllable, but I've been looking at some various material, such as the Appendix E at the end of Return of the King, and it says that "ea" is not one of the diphthongs, so it's dissyllabic. That would mean that Jackson uses the wrong pronunciation in his movies. But I also noticed that Sméagol's name doesn't have the two dots over one of the letters, that Tolkien normally uses, so people like myself remember that there's supposed to be two syllables. So I don't know if the fact that his name lacks that makes any difference. Of course it could just be because there's already an accent mark over the "e". So the only conclusion I can come up with is that Peter Jackson screwed up. I would like to give Jackson the benefit of the doubt, but I can't find anything that would justify the proununciation that he used in his movies. Of course I may have missed something. I'm not sure. So a little help in this area would be very appreciated. Thank you.

– Mithrandir


Q: Hello, I just have a question of pronunciation. A friend and I have been having an argument about the correct pronunciation of Gandalf. She seems to think that it's Gand-AF, AF as in "AFter" and I'm under the impression that it's Gand-all-v. The only thing I can find is in Appendix E in RoTK where it says that if a word ends in F then it is pronounced V. Thank you very much, I love your website especially the Q&A.

– Tom

A: Pronunciation is tricky and one of the more arguable things in the lengendarium. It varies so from person to person and country to country, just like any other existing language.

It is important to note the very first comment in the pronunciation guide given in the appendices of The Return of the King: That names/words in the Westron, or common speech, have been completely translated into English and are pronounced as such. Therefore, the words "Gandalf," "Saruman," and "Denethor" are subject to all the vagaries of various English pronunciation. Listening to a recording of Tolkien reading from his own works, we discover that he pronounces "Gandalf" with short vowels, stressing the first syllable, and with a definite unvoiced "f" at the end. So it is rendered as "GAND"- (rhymes with "bland") -"alf" (as in the first syllable of "alf-alf-a"). Following suit on "Denethor" and "Saruman," using short vowels and stressing the first syllable, we get "DEN-uh-thor" (like the den in your house) and "SAIR-oo-man". These are spoken with my Midwestern American accent--on the BBC, with their British parlance, it is undoubtedly different; however, I see no need to stress the middle syllable of any of those words--that makes them clumsy.

Legolas is a Sindarin elf. The pronunciation guide states: "In Sindarin long vowels in stressed monosyllables are marked with the circumflex, since they leaded in such cases to be specially prolonged; so in dûn compared with Dúnadan." Since there is no circumflex in "Legolas," I assume that the "e" is short and that "Leg" is stressed--as in "LEG-o-luhs." I fail to see why stressing the middle syllable would make it a better word--it is more clumsy and less beautiful in my opinion.

Smeagol is a little more difficult. One presumes that this falls into the category of Westron names rendered into English, since Tolkien refers specifically to Hobbit names in this passage. Therefore I pronounce it as I would in English--"SMEE-gall."


Q: I have read that the Barrow-wights were influenced by Sauron's return to power in the Third Age. Why didn't the Dead Men of the Haunted Mountain (Paths of the Dead) also serve Sauron instead of Aragorn? Weren't they wraiths, too?

– Darrell

A: They were not wraiths as we know the use of the word in connection with the Ringwraits, no. They were ghosts chained to the mortal plane by a task left unfinished (not an uncommon legend about spirits). They had vowed to fight AGAINST Sauron, back in the earlier wars, but they broke their vows and skulked into the hills. Broken vows are a very serious matter, holding their own special power, in Tolkien's legendarium. Thus with a vow broken, the spirits were left to skulk forever until they fulfilled their vow, so clearly to serve Sauron would have meant that they would not be freed from the obligation of their vow. When they served Aragorn and fought against Sauron, they were released from their vows and able to take their eternal rest away from the plane of Middle-earth.


Q: If Elves are so pure and one with nature and perfect how do you explain the Wood-elves in The Hobbit getting drunk on wine and passing out? It doesn't seem like a very Elvish thing to do. Always have wondered about that.

– Nick

A: It is curious that people assume the entire race of Elves were somehow morally superior, without fault or frailty, nobler in nature, and at all times devoted to peace, love, and happiness. What seems like "an Elvish thing to do" is a peculiar way of looking at things. Perhaps it is a notion some readers get from limited exposure to the Third Age Elves as presented in The Lord of the Rings: where they concerned themselves with healing the hurts of the world and living in a mummified "faux peace" brought forth by the Three Rings. Thus one might walk away from the book thinking Galadriel and Legolas are shining examples of how selfless and wonderful Elves must all be. Their waybread is good for the soul! Their miruvor is even better! They taught the Ents to speak and use language for heaven's sake! All Elves must therefore be "green & good." Well wake up and smell the Oath of Fëanor, my friend, because it hurts like a sack full of bricks upside your head. After reading The Silmarillion you will have a whole new concept about what the Eldar were capable of, both positive and downright horrid. Although most Elves were wonderfully divine and pure of "soul," their history is not one of perfect bliss. They killed their own brethren in cold blood, they stole property not theirs, they swore vengeance and death that flew in the face of the Valar's laws, they were suspicious and spiteful, they treated Dwarves poorly just because they were ugly (or too different from them) -- and dare I say it -- one Elf was consumed by an unwholesome lust for his own first cousin. To my mind it seems of little consequence that Wood-elves would enjoy the fruit of the vine, and maybe get a little sloppy from time to time. It does nothing to taint their "clean living" image, for I never thought they had one, really. Haven't they earned themselves a good, stiff drink though? After so many centuries of grief, I wouldn't mind a little bit of Merlot to take the edge off!


Q: Narsil is always referred to as Elendil's sword, but how did he acquire it? Was it a gift, did he inherit it, or was it the sword of the Kings of Númenor? Also, it seems that Telchar's other works seem to find themselves each in the ownership of the Three Houses of the Elf-friends, (Angrist to Beren, The Dragon-helm of Dor-lómin to Húrin and Túrin). Could have Narsil originally belonged to the other House of Elfriends?

– Xof

A: Sadly there are no details recorded by the Professor on this matter. We are not even sure that JRRT conceived of a further backstory for the sword, beyond the fact it was an heirloom from Elros' line. I could offer only thin speculation on how it was passed from Telchar's hands to whomever was first to receive it (perhaps Elros himself?).


Q: The Wise always say that using the Ring would be folly, even if Sauron were successfully overthrown through use of it, because the new Ringmaster would simply replace the old one. My question is: if someone of sufficient strength, say Gandalf or Saruman or Galadriel, were to master the Ring, could they control the Nazgûl with it? Obviously Frodo could not, but he never mastered the Ring. To what extent did they serve the Ruling Ring, and to what extent Sauron himself? Thanks. Y'all run a great site.

– Josh

A: There is something specific in JRRT's Letters (No. 246) that gives us some explanation. Frodo could not have controlled the Nazgûl at that point in the story where he claimed the Ring -- very true indeed -- and Tolkien muses that if the story's events did NOT unfold as he wrote them, specifically if Gollum did not get the Ring and fall into the Crack of Doom, if Frodo had continued to wield the Ring as a new 'power,' then the Nazgûl would have soon arrived at the Sammath Naur and "they would have obeyed or feigned to obey any minor commands of his that did not interfere with their errand -- laid upon them by Sauron, who still through their nine rings (which he held) had primary control of their wills." This type of rumination Tolkien considered "an interesting problem," and reflects on your main concern. The Ringwraiths served the Dark Lord Sauron as he was the one entity wielding enough of his power (through the nine rings) to control them. They had given their wills up to him a long time before. It would not seem to me that a Hobbit or Elf or Man bearing the Ring could reverse this channel of power. But for one possible exception: since Gandalf was of the Maiar himself, equal (and yet opposing) to Sauron's power, there might have been an eventuality where he wielded the Ring and rendered Sauron "completely overthrown" and neutered. Not a very fun idea, but if you can imagine a One Ring-wielding and terribly altered Gandalf rising to power at Barad-dûr to overthrow Sauron and replace him, then you can imagine the one instance where the Nazgûl could be brought to "heel" and obey a new master.


Q: Was the world flat before the sinking of Númenor and the removal of Valinor? I've read the quotes in The Silmarillion regarding the 'bending' of the world as meaning that the world was made round at this time. A friend has said that bending the world simply refers to changing it… it was always spherical. I'd really appreciate any light you might be willing to shed on this subject.

– Ar Pharazon

A: Cartography is one of my favorite subjects. And wouldn't you know, most people are like me in that respect: they love to converse over this particular aspect of Tolkien's great mythology. The world of Arda where all these tales take place was indeed flat in the beginning. After the War of Wrath it was still flat. However, during the Downfall of Númenor (as told in the Akallabêth), the western continent of Aman was removed and the world was "bent," or made round as we modern folks would think of it. We have covered this subject in earlier Q&A articles [click here to read] and of course I recommend you pick up a copy of Fonstad's Atlas of Middle-earth for a larger discussion.


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Questions 02/04
Quick navigation for questions asked this month.
 • Was Gothmog the son of Morgoth?
 • How did the Elves really 'fade'?
 • How many Grey Mountains were there?
 • How did Cirith Ungol get named?
 • Is wizardry good or evil?
 • Where did the other rings get their power?
 • How do I pronounce various names?
 • Why did the Dead serve Aragorn and not Sauron?
 • Why would Elves get drunk?
 • How did Elendil acquire Narsil?
 • Could the Ringbearer control the Nazgul?
 • Was the world always round?


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03/01/05 question three

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