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Q: Just a short question. There is a reference to the approximate size of the armies of Rohan. There is however very little reference to the size of the armies of Gondor. Is their army substantial? They are the dominant power of the West. Thanks for you time.

– Andrew Harris

A: A short question, yes… but a long answer, I’m afraid. The Return of the King has some detail as regards the troops that were sent from the southern Outlands, as seen by Pippin and Bergil marching through the Great Gate of Minas Tirith. You have to dig a little to find passing references to the various armies and their sizes, but Karen Wynn Fonstad has already done the work for us. Here is her table of estimated troops (for both sides) who fought at the Battle of the Pelennor Fields, found on page 151 of The Atlas of Middle-earth:

I. Gondor and Allies
Sounthern Fiefs
Captain Arrived From Troops
Forlong Lossarnach 200 "well-armed"
Dervorin Ringló Vale 300
Duihir Morthond 500 "bowmen"
Golasgil Anfalas 150 (est.) "scantly equipped"
--- Larnedon 50 (est.) "hillmen"
--- Ethir Anduin 100 "fisher-folk"
Hirluin Pinnath Gelin 300
Imrahil Dol Amroth 1,200 (est.) (700 plus "a company" on horse)
Guard of Minas Tirith
Captain Arrived From Troops
Denethor Minas Tirith 2,000 (est.)
Captain Arrived From Troops
Théoden/Éomer Rohan 6,000 Cavalry
Captain Arrived From Troops
Dúnedain The North 30
--- Southern Fiefs 1,000 (est.)
Total Estimated Forces of Gondor 11,250

II. Mordor and Allies
Mordor and Morgul-host
Captain Arrived From Troops
Angmar/Gothmog Barad-dûr, Minas Morgul 20,000 (est.)
Captain Arrived From Troops
Haradrim Near and Far Harad 18,000
Others Rhûn, Khand 7,000 (est.)
Total Estimated Forces of Mordor 45,000

As you can see, these numbers give a good idea of how desperate the West was in its last stand against the Shadow. Ms. Fonstad states: "Even a very conservative estimate would indicate that the forces of Mordor overwhelmed those of Gondor by at least four to one."

Now Gondor also had to protect itself from the imminent threat of the Corsairs of Umbar. Thus Denethor saw fit to recruit only a tithe of the southern fiefs’ available men to come to the aid of Minas Tirith, leaving the majority of able-bodied fighters in the South. Otherwise, there would have been significantly more troops within the City during the Great Siege.

- Quickbeam

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Q: In Appendix A in the section on Aragorn and Arwen, as he is about to die, Aragorn suggests to Arwen that she could repent and sail back to the West. She says that the choice is long over, and that there is now no ship that would bear her hence. A little later, in the section talking about Gimli and Legolas, it says that when Aragorn died Legolas at last followed his heart and sailed over the sea, and that he took Gimli with him (or so it is said). In Appendix B it even states that Legolas built the ship that he sailed away on. Legolas wasn't a mariner, so if he could build a ship, and if he thought that he and Gimli would be received into the west (and it is hinted that Galadriel may have pulled a few strings to get Gimli in), then why wouldn't Arwen have been able to do something similar, or even go along with Legolas?

–Geoff Clarke

A: I think the answer to this question lies with Arwen, in the statement that "the choice is long over," and NOT in the statement that no ship would bear her. To my mind, that doesn't mean that there aren't still ships capable of sailing to the Blessed Realm, because we know that at least one more (carrying Legolas and Gimli) did, in fact, sail after the passing of King Elessar. I think it simply means that, once having made her choice to live out a mortal life-span and to die from the world, no ship carrying her would be allowed to make landfall on the shores of Aman. Gimli did indeed go with Legolas, but I'm quite certain he did not become immortal. I believe he lived out the remainder of the life-span allotted to him as a dwarf and then passed away in Aman. I believe the same thing about Frodo, Sam, and Bilbo. They were granted the grace to spend the ends of their lives on the blessed shores, but not the immortality of the Elves. Arwen had long ago made her choice to become mortal, and since the Elven immortality is not granted to mortals, she would not have been allowed to revoke her choice, but would have to live out the remainder of her human years. Legolas, of course, retaining his Elven rights, was received on the shores and lived out his Elven immortality.


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Q: Do you think it could have been the evil presence of the Balrog under it that made Caradhras so "cruel"? The lode of mithril that the dwarves were pursuing when they released it led toward Caradhras. I guess there really isn't much evidence concerning this subject, but what are your thoughts on this?

–Juho Savolainen

A: In the Dwarvish language, Caradhras was called Barazinbar, and under it was the mithril vein, and the place where the Balrog hid. Gimli tells us in The Fellowship of the Ring that "Caradhras was called the Cruel and had an ill name long years ago, when rumor of Sauron had not been heard in these lands." (page 303) The Dwarvish settlement at Moria was founded in the First Age, and it was apparently not until the end of the First Age that the Balrog hid itself there. Thus we really don’t know whether the Dwarvish legend of "cruel" Caradhras precedes the hiding of the Balrog, or post-dates it. Still, it does seem likely that the evil will of the Balrog was at work in creating the association of Caradhras with cruel weather.

- Turgon

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Q: Did Elladan and Elrohir go over the sea with Elrond? And if not, is there any mention of what they did such as marriage or a position in the Reunited Kingdom?

–Craig Parker

A: There is a small tid-bit about the fate of these two characters in the Prologue to LotR. It says, "...though Elrond had gone [from Rivendell], his sons long remained, together with some of the High-elven folk." Little else can be found. I asked my fellow Green-Booker Turgon and learned thusly:

According to Foster's Complete Guide to Middle-earth, they did not go with Elrond, remaining in Imladris well into the Fourth Age. And since they didn't depart from the Havens, they apparently chose to become mortal. I haven't found where Foster found this–
BUT, in Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, p. 193, Tolkien wrote that "Elrond passes Over Sea. The end of his sons, Elladan and Elrohir, is not told: they delay their choice, and remain for a while."

Quickbeam (and Turgon)

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Q: The Eagles often appeared when things looked darkest. They saved Gandalf and his companions many times, as well as actually taking part in battles. Why then did it not occur to Gandalf or the White Council to use the Eagles to fly the Fellowship directly to Mount Doom and take care of the matter very quickly?

–Timothy Germann

A: Again, my first thought (as with a previous question about why Gandalf did not immediately flee with Frodo instead of letting him dawdle along through the summer) is the obvious: because then there would be no story. :) But if we must ask the question, I think it can be answered. Firstly, remember that the Eagles were the path of least intervention. As servants of Manwë, they represent an aspect of the divine in the story, and as it is, their use already provokes cries of deus ex machina!! But secondly, and more importantly (because it's more concrete to the plot), what do you think would have happened if nine huge Eagles, bearing the Ring, had swept into the sky and simply flown to Mordor? Who would have been there to meet them? I can tell you: winged Nazgûl. The Company got by because the Nazgûl, having been unhorsed and de-shaped, didn't know where they were and could not find them quickly enough. People creeping along on the land are far less noticeable than people flying through the sky on gigantic birds. Instead of slipping through the defenses, they would have been met with everything Sauron had to throw at them, and to my way of thinking, could actually have been defeated in plain battle. A huge distraction at his front gate, on the other hand, while two tiny figures crawled over the back fence, is a believable, if more troublesome and wearying, way to go.


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Q: In The Lord of the Rings, along the Paths of the Dead, there is mention of a door. Was there ever any mention of what the door led to, or what was behind it or who made it? After the Dead made good on their promise, were the Paths of the Dead still "haunted"? Thanks,

–Brian Benton

A: This Forbidden Door lay deep underneath the Dwimorberg, leading to the secret halls of the Oathbreakers. Behind this portal you would find the last stronghold of the Men of the Mountains who fled from Isildur’s curse. As Aragorn led the Grey Company through the dark, he found not only the Door but also the corpse of Baldor, son of Brego and heir of the Golden Hall (see The Two Towers, page 61; and also Appendix A, "The House of Eorl" page 345).

In the Year 2569 Baldor vowed in a drunken boast to enter the Paths of the Dead but never returned. From the condition of his remains it appears he strove vainly to break into the hidden fastness until he died of exhaustion, or terror, or both. When Aragorn mentions "Nine mounds and seven there are now green with grass…" he means the burial mounds of the Lords of the Mark adjacent to Meduseld. One of these would have been for Baldor, had he lived and ascended the throne.

After Aragorn summoned the Oathbreakers, I imagine the slate would be swept clean and the Dwimorberg would no longer hold them. The restless Dead would have no further obligation, as Aragorn himself promises:

"And when all this land is clean of the servants of Sauron, I will hold the oath fulfilled, and ye shall have peace and depart forever. For I am Elessar, Isildur’s heir of Gondor."

…and these solemn ghosts, as with the souls of all mortal Men, would no longer be bound to the Circles of the World. After a time of awaiting in the Houses of the Dead, they would ultimately pass out of Arda.


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Q: Hi there, I have just been reading through your question and answer section, and something struck me (as it were) when I read the section on Turin's talking sword. "It was made by magic to be utterly black save at its edges, and those were shining bright and sharp as but Gnome-steel may be". I didn't know there were Gnomes in Middle earth. Where are they mentioned? What do they do? And what is Gnome-steel and where has it been used?

–Graham Dean.

A: Prior to the writing of The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien used the term Gnomes to refer to one of the Three Kindred of the Eldar (or Elves), the Noldor, who were renowned craftsmen and who numbered among them Fëanor, the greatest of their craftsmen, forger of the Silmarils. Tolkien abandoned the term Gnomes sometime in the 1940s or 1950s.


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Q: We know that Gollum followed them through Moria (Frodo heard his footsteps in the dark)… But how is it possible? The Watcher in the Lake closed the gates right in front of the company (and put some boulders to make sure the gates would never open again). Then Gandalf destroyed the bridge, and the place was literally full of Orcs. Despite all of this, Gollum was spotted a few hours later in Lothlórien.

–Sebastien Careil

A: Gollum clearly had years of practice of furtive sneaking. So once in Moria, with his eyes used to the dark he would have had some advantage. And it appears that Gollum was already in Moria when the Company entered via the West-gate, and the Watcher sealed the gate behind them. So Gollum merely picked up the trail of the Company in Moria, and pursued them thereafter, towards the east end, which he must already have known and where he would have entered Moria.


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Q: In The Hobbit on page 86 Gollum is said to have "thought of things he kept in his own pockets." How could Gollum possibly have pockets? There is never any mention of him wearing clothes—and I can't quite imagine what type of clothes would actually fit on him. Also, Gollum clearly can't be referring back to when he was Sméagol because what would Sméagol be doing with, "fish-bones, goblin's teeth, wet shells, bat-wing and a sharp stone to sharpen fangs"? Best of Luck,


A: Go back in time far enough and there was a point where Sméagol wore clothes. The community Sméagol belonged to had a lifestyle that was indeed most hobbit-like, as Gandalf explained in "The Shadow of the Past." Some years after murdering Déagol he was exiled from his clan and wandered far under the mountains to escape "the hardness of the world." I imagine he was still wearing garments at that time, for protection from the elements if nothing else. Now consider how long it would take for the Ring to torture and twist a hobbit into a Gollum. Let’s look at "The Tale of Years" to find out how long Sméagol-Gollum was using It while hidden away in his dark hole at the mountain’s roots:

Year 2463: About this time Déagol the Stoor finds the One Ring, and is murdered by Sméagol.
Year 2470: About this time Sméagol-Gollum hides in the Misty Mountains.
Year 2941: Bilbo meets Sméagol-Gollum and finds the Ring.

Hullo! That’s 478 long years of having the Ring in his possession. Imagine nearly five centuries of isolated misery, sneaking, bitterness, and being relentlessly misshapen by Sauron’s will (which the One Ring was an extension of). Somewhere along this timeline, Sméagol stopped being hobbit-like and adapted to his environment. He lost most recognizable hobbit traits but still remained humanoid. He may have been wearing clothes once, collecting curious things in the dark and storing them in his pockets, but eventually the trappings of his earlier life would fall away. In The Hobbit we have some glimpses into Gollum’s past—fragments of his former self swim into his thoughts during the Riddle Game. And that memory of "pockets" is one of them.


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Q: I have a question. In The Silmarillion I have found mention of so-called Guardians of the forest. These creatures were, apparently, created my Yavanna to protect the forests. Are these Guardians the Ents or if not what race do they belong too??


A: The passage concerning Yavanna and her role in creating the Ents, or the Shepherds of the Trees, can be found in The Silmarillion, Chapter Two ("Of Aulë and Yavanna"). Ents were not originally part of Tolkien’s Silmarillion, and they emerged during the writing of The Lord of the Rings. Tolkien had to add them into The Silmarillion afterwards.

In a rough note on a letter from 1963, Tolkien wrote: "No one knew whence they (Ents) came or first appeared. The High Elves said that the Valar did not mention them in the ‘Music’. But some (Galadriel) were [of the] opinion that when Yavanna discovered the mercy of Eru to Aulë in the matter of the Dwarves, she besought Eru (through Manwë) asking him to give life to things made of living things not stone, and that the Ents were either souls sent to inhabit trees, or else that slowly took the likeness of trees owing to their inborn love of trees" (quoted from The War of the Jewels, page 341).


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Q: I remember that when Frodo & Co. were attacked at Weathertop, Frodo screamed something like the "O Elbereth"-phrase. Afterwards, I think it is Aragorn who tells him that with those words he had probably done more harm to the Nazgûl than with his sword Sting. To me it seems rather ridiculous that creatures as the Nazgûl would be terrified of some simple words. Do these words have any power? How can these words do more harm than a sword? (Especially when at the battle of the Pelennor, Merry and Eowyn destroy the Lord of the Nazgûl with physical violence.) Maybe it would have been more effective to scream "Elbereth" a hundred times.


A: Actually, as a small aside, Frodo at that time was carrying a Barrow-blade, and not Sting. Bilbo gave him Sting once they had reached Rivendell, because his sword broke underneath him on the shores of the Fords of Rivendell. At the time of Weathertop, Frodo's sword did not actually strike the Nazgûl, but rather only his cloak.

'Look!' he cried; and stooping he lifted from the ground a black cloak that had lain there hidden by the darkness. A foot above the lower hem there was a slash. 'This was the stroke of Frodo's sword,' he said. 'The only hurt that it did to his enemy, I fear; for it (Frodo's sword) is unharmed, but all blades perish that pierce that dreadful King. More deadly to him was the name of Elbereth.

And as another aside, Merry's sword did, in fact, melt into mist and vanish after he struck the Nazgûl. ("My sword burned all away like a piece of wood…") So we see that Aragorn means that the name of Elbereth was more deadly than Frodo's sword. That doesn't necessarily mean more deadly than all other forms of attack. However, invoking the name of Elbereth Gilthoniel, is, to my mind, the same as in old legends when the champions of good, beset by enemies, would invoke the name of Mary, mother of Christ, or the name of Jesus himself. Calling on spiritual powers can be a grievous blow to enemies who are of the realm of spiritual evil. Do you recall the legend that evil spirits cannot dwell in your house or possess your body unless you invite them in? And how did the Biblical disciples drive out demons? By invoking the name of Christ. I do not wish to get into a discussion of Christianity and Tolkien at this juncture; I'm merely pointing out that when you're dealing with beings of spiritual evil, the names of the spiritual embodiments of good can have a powerful effect. Elbereth Gilthoniel is the Sindarin name for Varda, queen of the stars and wife of Manwë, lord of the heavens. So to draw a rough parallel to our own spiritual structure (Christian), since Mary is regarded as the queen of Heaven, Frodo using the name of Varda to ward off the evil power of the Nazgûl was the same as if a Catholic, beset by demons, had invoked the name of Mary, mother of God. (If there are Catholics out there who need to quibble with me about my wording or my analogy, please write; I'm a Christian and I'm not out to offend anybody, Christian or otherwise.) Who is to say what invoking her name did to Frodo's enemies, effects perhaps unseen by the company? I will say, however, that it was beyond Varda's power, just as it is (presumably) beyond the power of the spirit of Mary to destroy demons, to destroy the Ringwraith. They were cowed but not defeated, and in the end the doom that was foretold to the Witch-king came upon him at the hands of a woman and a hobbit, both bearing brave, self-sacrificing hearts—and darn good swords. :)


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Q: I hope that you may be able to answer a question which has plagued me ever since I picked up "The Lord of the Rings." It is simply this:

—What tangible powers does the One Ring *really* have?

We know that it confers its wearer with invisibility and eventually a longer life, whilst bending their thought to the will of Sauron which is bound in the Ring. What would Sauron do with the Ring, however? How could it be used to subjugate the races of Middle-Earth? Would it shoot arcane lightning, strike his enemies' armies with an unshakable dread, tumble mountain-ranges, cause earth-quakes and tidal waves…? I do not remember anything being said of the actual *powers* of the One Ring itself. What makes it so fearsome?

–Lian Neill


Q: Why would Sauron create a great ring of power and command and then endow it with a secondary power of invisibility? It is almost ironic that a ring capable of driving armies to conquer the world was also designed to let the wearer slink away and hide. Also, was Sauron invisible when Isildur cut it from his finger? How did he see him and why didn't Sauron use the power to escape the onslaught of the Dúnedain and the Elves? I don't know if there is a concrete answer but I would welcome any speculation.

–Timothy W. Germann

A: Okay, first things first. Powers of the One Ring. We know that it causes invisibility in mortals. (We'll get to that in a minute, since it deals directly with the second question.) We also know that it looks out for itself; it can remove itself from fingers unexpectedly, which it has done on several occasions, causing Isildur's death, Gollum's loss of the Ring, and Bilbo being seen by goblins at the back gate. Not only that, it can slip ON to fingers unexpectedly, as it did when Frodo disappeared in the Prancing Pony. You might remember that Frodo had the feeling that the Ring did that to reveal itself in obedience to a wish or command that was emanating from the environment; presumably from Bill Ferny and the squint-eyed Southerner or else from the Black Riders lurking around the village. At any rate, so far so good. The Ring draws servants of the Dark Lord, because so much of his power is vested in it. Aragorn told Frodo as much. We know that the power in the Ring and the power in Sauron were akin and thus were drawn to each other, as well. We know that the One Ring has power over the Nine, the Seven, and in a more limited fashion, the Three. Anybody holding one of the Nine or the Seven would be subjected to Sauron's will, as we see with the Nazgûl. All right, but how will all that help Sauron control the world? It's simpler than you might think. How does anybody control the world? They conquer by force, as several of our own worldly dictators have tried to do. With what force? Armies. What holds armies in thrall? One of several things. Either loyalty (patriotism), money (mercenary greed), ideology, hope for personal gain, or the fear that something bad will happen to people who refuse to serve (the draft). Well, I envision the Ring as Sauron's draft. Do you remember what happened at the battle before the Black Gate after the Ring had been destroyed? Or, if you're a Star Wars junkie and you've read Zahn, what did he say happened to the Imperial forces at the Battle of Endor upon the death of the Emperor? (I'm not saying you have to AGREE with him, just remember what he said. :) Don't take my word for it. Tolkien writes thusly:

"The realm of Sauron is ended!' said Gandalf. 'The Ring-bearer has fulfilled his Quest.' … The Captains bowed their heads; and when they looked up again, behold! Their enemies were flying and the power of Mordor was scattering like dust in the wind. As when death smites the swollen brooding thing that inhabits their crawling hill and holds them all in sway, ants will wander witless and purposeless and then feebly die, so the creatures of Sauron, orc or troll or beast spell-enslaved, ran hither and thither mindless…"

So that answers one question and brings up another. The beasts and Orcs were held in thrall to the power of Sauron, even without the Ring in his hand. But when the Ring was destroyed, the greater part of his power was no longer in the world. Though he did not control the Ring, I believe he was drawing upon its power to sustain his war, and when it was destroyed, the beasts and Orcs whom he controlled were under his control no longer and had no idea what to do with

themselves. But the quotation brings up another question: what about the human beings who were fighting for him?

"But the Men of Rhûn and of Harad, Easterling and Southron, saw the ruin of their war and the great majesty and glory of the Captains of the West. And those that were deepest and longest in evil servitude, hating the West, and yet were men proud and bold, in their turn now gathered themselves for a last stand of desperate battle. But the most part fled eastward as they could; and some cast their weapons down and sued for mercy."

Evil servitude. Why were they serving evil? Most likely they were not completely in Sauron's thrall as long as he did not hold the ring. But many of the above reasons would serve nicely. They hated the West; that's ideology, and, in fact, the same ideology that the Soviet Union tried to hold over its people for so many years. They saw a chance for personal gain if the west fell: power and rulership over rich lands.

So to conclude a LONG-winded answer, the power of the Ring lies in the fact that its power is Sauron's, and he is a Maia, able to bend susceptible mortals to his will. Mortals whose goals are already roughly aligned with his, such as power-hungry Easterlings, Southrons, and the kings who were the Nazgûl, will serve him readily. These are people who want power just for the sake of having it, who want to have control over others just for the sake of controlling them. And the Orcs and beasts and such were directly in thrall to Sauron and to the Ring. If he can do this much without the Ring in hand, I very much suspect that with the Ring, he would be able to bend far more beings to his will, whether they were originally mostly good or mostly evil to begin with.

"It would be a grievous blow to the world, if the Dark Power overcame the Shire; if all your kind, jolly ... Bagginses, became enslaved."

This clearly says to me that with the Ring in hand, Sauron would be able to bend the wills of whomever he chose. Without it, he was able to control beasts and Orcs and ally to himself Men who had similar lusts for power. With it, his hold over the peoples of Middle-earth would have been terrifying.

Now. Why would a Ring, endowed with the greater power of Sauron, capable of corrupting a strong mind to evil, make the wearer invisible? My answer above was rooted in clear statements of Tolkien's, but this one, I fear must be more speculative. My thought is that because the Ring is trying to draw the wearer into the world of spiritual evil that Sauron and the Nazgûl inhabit, making the wearer invisible to the natural world must be the first step. When you are cut off from your natural environment, it can do strange things to your mind. (Can you imagine what it must be like to be in solitary confinement in prison?) Take Gollum. Invisible, he could slink around and hear the secrets other people didn't want known. Secrets are a form of power over other people, and power over other people for the sake of manipulating them is evil. Thus the first tiny step on the road to corruption. Don't forget what Gandalf told Frodo about the invisibility:

"A mortal, Frodo, who keeps one of the Great Rings, does not die, but he does not grow or obtain more life, he merely continues,"

–as spirits might do, unchanging–

"until every minute is a weariness. And if he often uses the Ring to make himself invisible, he fades: he becomes in the end invisible permanently, and walks in the twilight under the eye of the dark power that rules the Rings."

Taking the wearer from his natural state and closer to an unnatural state of spiritual corruption is a large step on the road to soul-devouring, which, like our Satan, is one of Sauron's goals.

Was Sauron invisible when Isildur cut the Ring from his hand? Perhaps, but perhaps not. Remember that Frodo was invisible when Gollum bit the ring from his hand, finger and all. If you are desperate enough, you can fight without seeing. But I'm not so sure that Sauron was invisible. Remember that Tom Bombadil did not vanish when he put on the Ring. I subscribe to the view that Tom is a form of Maia, so I put it to you that any corporeal form he might take on is a projection of his own power, and since the Ring's power does not affect Tom's personal power (although with Sauron wielding it, it might be a different matter, as Elrond pointed out), it does not affect his corporeal form. I have no doubt that Sauron could have been invisible had he wished, but I submit that the forces of the West had overcome so many of his forces by this time and battled him for so long that he was weak. They had overcome or killed much of his armies; these forces were held in thrall by his power, so presumably having them killed was weakening to him. Even though he was a spirit with great power, he had let a large part of his power pass into a physical object, so there was less for himself.

This is largely speculation, but I hope it gives you new ideas as you try to answer these questions.


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Q: What is the Secret Fire that Gandalf mentions when facing the Balrog?

–Juho Savolainen


"I am a servant of the Secret Fire, wielder of the flame of Anor. The dark fire will not avail you, flame of Udûn."

Thus spoke Gandalf to the Balrog on the Bridge of Khazad-dûm. Presumably the Secret Fire refers to Iluvatar, keeper of the Flame Imperishable with which he forged the world. "Flame of Anor" is a little trickier. "Minas Anor" is the Tower of the Sun, so is Gandalf literally talking about the flame of the Sun? Perhaps. Udûn was Sindarin for the Quenya "Utumno," which was Morgoth's first stronghold. It was Morgoth whom the Balrogs served, so that fits together. My best thought is that Gandalf is contrasting the power of Iluvatar and the light of the Sun with the power of the Shadow, and merely painting a word-picture of the fact that the Light will always overcome the Darkness.



Wow! Quickbeam said it was a deluge, but nothing prepared me for the deluge of email I got when I neglected to mention that as a "wielder of the Flame of Anor," Gandalf could very well have been referring to his Elven-ring, Narya, Ring of Fire. Too many people to mention have written this, so here's kudos to all of you! Thanks for keeping me honest!


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Q: This question may be more for debate and less suited to one answer but here goes... Are the Undying Lands named so because they bestow immortality upon any who set foot therein or because of the nature of the folk who dwell there (Valar, Eldar, etc)? (This may seem simple, however it was stated in the Silmarillion that when Ar-Pharazôn and his men landed in Aman they were buried in the Earth and are now "imprisoned in the Caves of the Forgotten, until the Last Battle and the Day of Doom." Pg. 345)


A: The Undying Lands is the name given to the lands inhabited by the immortal Valar, including Valinor, Eldamar, and the island Tol Eressëa. It was Eru, or Iluvatar, who designed death as the Gift of Men (or as a release from being bound to the Circles of the World) while the fate of the Elves was bound within the Circles of the World, where they would remain through their very long lives (not quite "immortality"). (Elves could be slain, but their spirits went to Valinor, and remained within the Circles of the World.) The Valar had rewarded the Númenoreans with long life, but could not alter the nature of man so as to bestow upon them immortality. Thus the Undying Lands do not appear to be inherently immortal. See the statement of Manwë’s messengers to the Númenoreans: "it is not the land of Manwë that makes its people deathless, but the Deathless that dwell therein have hallowed the land" (page 264). It was apparently one of the lies of Sauron to suggest otherwise.

The statement about Ar-Pharazôn and his men reads as follows: "But Ar-Pharazôn the King and the mortal warriors that had set foot upon the land of Aman were buried under falling hills; there it is said that they lie imprisoned in the Caves of the Forgotten, until the Last Battle and the Day of Doom." (page 279). I think the key here lies in the phrase "it is said", for it must be a mannish legend that the writer of the Akallabêth is here referring to, not an explicit statement of fact.


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Q: I've read the Lord of the Rings about four times now and have loved it every time, but one thing always confuses me. And that is, what exactly is Sauron and what does he look like? Is he just an entity or does he resemble one of the Black Riders? And what does he actually do in Barad-dûr? Tolkien never explains this completely and so I was just wondering what your theories were. Not that it matters much, it is the greatest book that will ever exist!

–Matthew Park

A: We know that Sauron, originally of the Maiar of Aulë, was unable to assume a fair-seeming form after his body perished in the Fall of Númenor at the end of the Second Age. But in The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien very carefully avoids any concrete descriptions of Sauron’s physical appearance. We are given instead various metaphors, the Great Eye, the Red Eye, the Lidless Eye, or the Dark Lord, or the Nameless One, or the Black Hand (among many others). The one scene where Sauron appears (sort of) is in Pippin’s description of his encounter with Sauron through the means of the Palantír, but again we get no description. (There is another very brief section written from the perspective of Sauron, when Frodo, at the Cracks of Doom, puts on the Ring, and Sauron realizes the peril.) The one place where we can get a glimpse of how Tolkien visualized the Dark Lord is in his artwork. In J.R.R.. Tolkien: Artist and Illustrator, by Wayne G. Hammond and Christina Scull, take a look at the two sketches for the dust-wrapper of The Return of the King on pages 182 and 183.

Sauron’s chief power, and that of the Ring as well, seems to have been in the matter of coercion–of eliminating the will of an individual, and making that individual completely subservient to him.



A reader (Frode) pointed out another instance in The Lord of the Rings regarding Sauron’s appearance. In chapter 3 of Book IV ("The Black Gate Is Closed") in The Two Towers, Frodo says to Gollum: "It was Isildur who cut off the finger of the Enemy." (p. 249). Gollum responds, "shuddering": "Yes, He has only four on the Black Hand, but they are enough." (p. 250).

Gollum has of course seen Sauron, and his description implies a humanoid figure with a black hand missing one finger.

Another reader (Mr. Mewlip) sent in the following reference to Sauron’s physical appearance from The Letters of J. R. R. Tolkien:

"In a tale which allows the incarnations of great spirits in a physical and destructible form their power must be far greater when actually physically present. Sauron should be thought of as very terrible. The form that he took was that of a man of more than human stature, but not gigantic.
In his earlier incarnation he was able to veil his power (as Gandalf did) and could appear as a commanding figure of great strength of body and supremely royal demeanor and countenance." (no. 249, September 1963, p. 332)


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Q: Should be a simple one—which are the two towers implied by The Two Towers? I've seen just about ALL the possible towers, including Barad-dûr, Orthanc, Minas Tirith, and Minas Morgul (occasionally, I've even seen somebody try and suggest Helm's Deep!)

–Brian Gilkison

A: Look on the last page of The Fellowship of the Ring:

Here ends the first part of the history of the War of the Ring.

The second part is called The Two Towers, since the events recounted in it are dominated by Orthanc, the citadel of Saruman, and the fortress of Minas Morgul that guards the secret entrance to Mordor…

I have seen arguments against this text, saying that the Professor did not write them and they were actually inserted by the publisher, Allen & Unwin. Indeed, remember that The Lord of the Rings was not originally meant to be a trilogy of three volumes but rather a compilation of Six Books. It was Tolkien’s publisher who decided on a "more convenient" number of three separate volumes and then requested new names for them. Tolkien was unhappy with this but under a deadline pressure came up with the names as we have them now.

By looking in the Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien you can learn much more about his personal thoughts on this:

"The Two Towers gets as near as possible to finding a title to cover the widely divergent Books 3 & 4; and can be left ambiguous—it might refer to Isengard and Barad-dûr, or to Minas Tirith and B; or Isengard and Cirith Ungol (1)." [Letter #140]

The footnote (1) to this letter reads:

"In a subsequent letter to Ranyer Unwin (#143), Tolkien is more definite that the Two Towers are ‘Orthanc and the Tower of Cirith Ungol’. On the other hand, in his original design for the jacket of The Two Towers (see #151) the Towers are certainly Orthanc and Minas Morgul. Orthanc is shown as a black tower, three-horned (as seen in Pictures no. 27), and with the sign of the White Hand beside it; Minas Morgul is a white tower, with a thin waning moon above it, in reference to its original name, Minas Ithil, the Tower of the Rising Moon (FotR p. 257). Between the two towers a Nazgûl flies."

There is another letter I found, stating:

"I am not at all happy about the title The Two Towers. It must, if there is any real reference in it to Vol. II, refer to Orthanc and the Tower of Cirith Ungol. But since there is so much made of the basic opposition of the Dark Tower and Minas Tirith, that seems very misleading." [Letter #143]

So there you have it. My personal belief, if you will indulge me, is that the title makes a connection between the two structures that have the greatest impact on the main characters. Or rather, the powers within those structures. In Book Three we have Théoden and Gandalf vying against the power of Orthanc. In Book Four, Frodo and Sam find that their path ultimately leads to the Haunted Pass and Minas Morgul, where Frodo comes within a hair's breadth of being captured by the Witch-king (remember, we don’t really see events inside the Tower of Cirith Ungol until The Return of the King, so that doesn’t count here).


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Questions 03/00
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 • Armies of Gondor
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 • Elladan and Elrohir
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 • Servant of the Secret Fire
 • Undying Lands
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