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Q: I know that very many people analyze each aspect of the written Lord of the Rings trilogy, but is it at all possible that maybe Tolkien did not want people to look so deep into the books, but rather just enjoy the story? I know that most writers want to get across their opinions, whether they are obviously revealed or not, but do you think Tolkien might have felt that the reader should just sit back and enjoy the story without picking it apart? Thank you!


A: Undoubtedly Tolkien felt that many people took the book more seriously than he himself did at psychological or spiritual levels. Although it was a large part of his life's work, his life’s work was words, not philosophy or any other branch of human thought. As such, his stated purpose was to make a mythology or grouping of legends that could be enjoyed as stories with a deeper meaning.

Aside from the deeper meaning, undoubtedly he was surprised by the way people hashed over the details of the story. He said two telling things on the subject, that many people "are involved in the stories in a way that I’m not" and that he was not sure that the tendency to treat the whole thing as "kind of a vast game" was a good idea. He also referred to the really obsessive fans who became so devoted to the book as "my deplorable cultus." He was surprised and alarmed by the way the book seemed to take hold of some people, and undoubtedly would have liked it if more people would have enjoyed the story as a legend and been content with that.


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Q: I have a question which probably doesn't have a real answer, but has always bothered me. Are Orcs born evil? As I understand it, they are born the regular way, because it is stressed that even Morgoth could not create life, only deform and mutate what was already there (in the form of the Elves). So are cute newborn baby Orclings irredeemably bad from the moment they're born, or is it just a bad upbringing and violent culture that makes them so mean? If a baby Orc was adopted by a nice human or Elf family, could they mitigate its Orc nature? This is actually a question brought up by my six year-old daughter, and I had no good answer for her. Yes, Orcs are mostly slaves, they are not numbered among the "Free Peoples," but they do have minds of their own. They are shown arguing and complaining about their masters’ orders, having their own opinions, and even wishing they could go off on their own and run their own lives. They may not be free, but in my opinion they are clearly "people."

I could just accept this in any other work, but my understanding of Tolkien's morality makes it hard to accept thinking creatures who are damned from birth with no hope of redemption whatsoever. Even Sauron was not evil at the beginning, even Morgoth, Balrogs, Saruman, Gollum, Wormtongue, etc. etc. all fell into evil by their own choices. Everyone in Tolkien's universe seems to have free will – except Orcs? How can this be? Does being a member of an enslaved race make you a bad person? I hope not.


A: This is a tough one, especially since I just lauded Tolkien's sense of free will. I agree it seems monstrous that he would make an entire race evil from the start, but on the other hand, it seems to be the case. For confirmation, look at the chapter in Return of the King called "The Field of Cormallen." When the Ring is destroyed and Sauron with it, "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 feebly die, so the creatures of Sauron, orc or troll or beast spell-enslaved, ran hither and thither mindless... "

This seems to say that Sauron had them all in "thrall" and that they were held to his will only from the moment they were born until they died – or he did. He doubtless used the power of the Ring for this purpose. Sad but seemingly true.


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Q: Why is Gandalf, Elrond, and everyone else so afraid of Sauron getting the One Ring back? Sauron wielded the Ring once before and the Last Alliance overpowered him and took the Ring from his hand; so why can't they just do it again if he regains the Ring? If they can do it once, they can do it twice, right? Thanks in advance,

–Trevor Paine

A: Much of your supposition is discussed in "The Shadow of the Past," if indirectly. It would not be simple in any way to contest and overthrow Sauron if he indeed regained the One Ring. When the Elves and Men allied themselves at the end of the Second Age, it took a whopping eleven years of fighting and siege against Barad-dûr before they accomplished anything. Gandalf explains that "the strength of the Elves to resist him was greater long ago; and not all Men were estranged from them." The Dark Lord's power was considerably greater at the close of the Third Age; and you must also imagine the Elves as a waning power – fewer and less involved with the worries of Middle-earth. Alas, at that time there were no great Men of Westernesse to join their cause should they need to confront the Shadow once more. Relevant discussions of the power of the Ring have been posted by Anwyn in our previous Q&A articles [click here] and [click here]. I will add to her comments by saying the focus of Sauron's will would be greatly increased with the return of the Ring to his hand (also he would categorically control the other Rings, undoing the works created with them). So with weaker Elves and Men and an exponentially stronger Sauron with his happy little Ring back – with his regained ability to control the thoughts and will of all others, and his massive armies, I would say "no," no one could stop him. Almost makes you respect Frodo in a whole new way for taking on such a mind-boggling responsibility.


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Q: Hey Green Books, in The Hobbit those three trolls (Tom, Bert, William) talk like humans. But in the Appendices of ROTK, it says "Stone Trolls could only speak the Black Speech." Did Tolkien make a mistake? And what's with the troll's purse talking?


A: Much of your supposition is discussed in "The Shadow of the Past," if indirectly. It would You seem to have misread the passage in Appendix F concerning trolls, which, after explaining that Sauron had increased the wits of trolls, giving them some ability to speak, specifically says that "in the Westlands the Stone-trolls spoke a debased form of the Common Speech." It is indeed likely that this sentence was written specifically to account for the debased speech (represented as Cockney) of the trolls in The Hobbit. The sentence at the end of the section, saying that the only tongue that they knew was the Black Speech, refers to the more recently bred Olog-hai of Mordor and the southern Mirkwood.

The passage in question has one interesting aspect, not connected with language, that I had not noticed before. The earliest trolls are said to have their beginning in the 'twilight of the Elder Days', and the new Olog-hai could endure the Sun, "Unlike the older race of the Twilight." Tolkien seems to be hinting here that one reason that the older breed of trolls were sensitive to the Sun is that they were made in that twilight world, lit from afar by the light of the Two Trees and of the stars, in the Elder days before the first rising of the Sun, as described in the Silmarillion. Tolkien decided some time after Lord of the Rings was published that this mythology of the late creation of the Sun was too far removed from the astronomy of the real world with which everyone is now familiar, and made an attempt, never fully realized or integrated with the other parts of the history, to rewrite the myths so that the world was illuminated by the sun from the outset, as described in "Morgoth's Ring" (History of Middle-earth Volume X). As Douglas A. Anderson points out in The Annotated Hobbit, Tolkien even rewrote a passage in The Hobbit ("...the Wood-elves lingered in the twilight before the raising of the Sun and Moon...") to "...lingered in the twilight of our Sun and Moon, but loved best the stars," to reflect this change for the 1966 edition. It is notable that although other revisions were made to Lord of the Rings at this time, this passage remained unchanged.


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Q: Would you happen to know if the hobbits celebrate Christmas or a similar holiday in the Shire? My friend and I are doing a LotR story/role play game, and we want to do something along those lines. Thanks.


A: Since there is no "God" or specific "Christianity" mentioned in Tolkien's legends (not as we historically have them in our world) there would of course be no Christmas. However, when you look in Appendix D you will find a great deal of information about the Shire Calendar. We learn in these pages that the hobbits celebrated several days that seemed to mark the Winter Solstice, called the Yuletide. The very word Tolkien uses, Yuletide, is exactly the word "Yuletide" as we name the Christmas season in the Western countries [American Heritage Dictionary says that "yule" comes from the Middle English "yole" meaning 'December or January']. This period of feasting in winter also included two lithe days that were outside the months of Forelithe and Afterlithe. I could go on, but I think the details are more adequately described by Tolkien in Appendix D.


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Q: Hi, I had a question on the traveling on the seas to Valinor and Tol Eressëa for the Elves. I know that The Straight Road has always been open to the Elves after the Valar pardoned them after the War of the Jewels. But once an Elf sailed to Aman, could they go back to Middle-earth? I know it sounds ridiculous, because after going to Valinor, who would want to go back? But, maybe to visit someone they missed who did not come with them to the Undying Lands? I don't remember any mention of this in The Silmarillion. With highest regards,


A: When Tolkien considered the matter of the identification of Glorfindel of Rivendell with Glorfindel of Gondolin (in notes published in "The Peoples of Middle-earth," The History of Middle-earth Volume XII), he wrote, "When did Glorfindel return to Middle-earth? This must probably have occurred _before_ the end of the Second Age, and the 'Change of the World' and the Drowning of Númenor, after which no living embodied creature, 'humane' or of lesser kinds, could return from the Blessed Realm which had been 'removed from the Circles of the World'. This was according to a general ordinance proceeding from Eru Himself; and though, until the end of the Third Age, when Eru decreed that the Dominion of Men must begin, Manwë could be supposed to have received the permission of Eru to make an exception in his case... this is improbable and would make Glorfindel of greater power and importance than seems fitting."

It's always nice when we can find a direct answer written by Tolkien himself.


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Q: What can you tell me about the Palantíri? Who made them? Do they have individual names? We know that Saruman, Denethor and Sauron had a seeing stone each (during LotR), but any guesses to where the other four were? Any additional info will be greatly appreciated.

–CYH, Malaysia

A: Gandalf gives Pippin a pretty complete summary of their history, as far as it is known, in the last chapter of Book III in The Two Towers. To summarize, the Palantíri were wrought by the Noldor, perhaps even by Fëanor, in Eldamar and were given as gifts by the Eldar to the men of Westernesse. When Westernesse was ruined, the seven stones were brought on seven of the nine ships carrying Elendil and his company, and were used to communicate across the distances of Gondor. There is no reason to think that they had individual names. Further histories of the stones can be found among the writings in Appendix A – if this sort of thing interests you, you _really_ should be reading the Appendices! The stones were located thusly:

– Minas Anor (Minas Tirith): the stone used by Denethor.
– Minas Ithil (Minas Morgul): taken by Sauron and held in Barad-dûr.
– Orthanc: You know what became of that.
– Osgiliath: The chief stone in the Tower of the Dome was lost in the water during the burning and destruction of that Tower in the war of the Kin-strife in Third Age 1437, as described in Appendix A.
– Annúminas, the capitol of the North-kingdom, and
– Amon Sûl, the watchtower at Weathertop: these two Stones were lost when the ship of Arvedui, the last king of the North-kingdom foundered in the ice-bay of Forochel in Third Age 1975, as described in Appendix A.

The last stone was in the Tower Hills that looked towards the Grey Havens west of the Shire. I include an extended quote here, since relatively few people have a copy of the source, and it contains some interesting lore:

This alone of the palantíri was so made as to look out only west over the Sea. After the fall of Elendil the High-Elves took back this Stone into their own care, and it was not destroyed, nor again used by Men. The High-Elves (such as did not dwell in or near the Havens) journeyed to the Tower Hills at intervals to look afar at Eressëa (the Elvish isle) and the Shores of Valinor, close to which it lay. The hymn [in FotR, "Snow-white! Snow-white! O Lady clear!"] is one appropriate to Elves who have just returned from such a pilgrimage. No doubt Gildor and his companions, since they appear to have been going eastward, were Elves living in or near Rivendell returning from the palantír of the Tower Hills. On such visits they were sometimes rewarded by a vision, clear but remote, of Elbereth, as a majestic figure, shining white, standing upon the mountain Oilosse (Sindarin Uilos). It was then that she was also addressed by the title Fanuilos. (The Road Goes Ever On Songbook)

There is a fairly detailed description of the palantíri and their operation in Unfinished Tales.


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Q: I know that "Strider" translated into Quenya is "Telcontar." What is it's translation into Sindarin? "Telchion or Tilchion?" Would the translation of "Trotter" be the same?


A: Tolkien linguist David Salo analyzed 'telcontar' on the Elfling forum a few years ago <a href=" http://www.dcs.ed.ac.uk/misc/local/TolkLang/elfling-mirror/012nn/01245">[click here]</a>. He said that 'In an older version of the King's Letter (to Samwise Gamgee) Telcontar is Sindarized as "Telchandir,"' but I confess that I couldn't find it in a possibly-too-hasty reading of the Epilogue in "Sauron Defeated," The History of Middle-earth, Volume IX. But Telchandir would indeed be a cognate for Telcontar.

The section on the Epilogue does say that the draft archived at Marquette University (copies of which were privately circulated among Elvish linguists many years ago) has a version of the letter that begins 'Aragorn Tarantar,' which Sam explains as "...that's Trotter"). I cannot guess why Tolkien reverted to this name, however briefly, at that late stage of writing, nor will I attempt to analyze its etymology here.


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Q: In ROTK it is told that after the death of the Witch-king that both Merry and Éowyn suffered a bizarre deadening in the arm (Merry in the arm with which he stabbed the Witch-king's foot, and Éowyn in the arm she used to behead him). They also suffered some illness, as well, which I assume was due to the Witch-king's "Black Breath." My question is this: why did Isildur not suffer similar symptoms after he cut the Ring from Sauron's hand? It would stand to reason that if Merry and Éowyn suffered this strange numbness after wounding a servant of Sauron, that wounding Sauron himself would have a similar, if not more perilous, effect. Thanks for your time, and keep up the good work.


A: A good question, for which there is no certain answer. It may be that the nature of the Nazgûl – mortals held in this world unnaturally by the power of the Nine Rings – is quite different, and affects mortal flesh differently, from Sauron, a self-incarnated Maia. It might also be significant that (unlike the situation portrayed in the Jackson movie), Sauron was already subdued and defeated by the time Isildur struck the Ring from his hand. As an incarnated being – like Gandalf – Sauron's physical body was subject to destruction and death (as in the fall of Númenor). Recall Elrond's narrative: "I beheld the last combat on the slopes of Orodruin, where Gil-galad died, and Elendil fell, and Narsil broke beneath him; but Sauron himself was overthrown, and Isildur cut the Ring from his hand..." It seems to be the case that Sauron's body was already unconscious or even dead when Isildur cut the Ring from it (else the order in the sentence would have been different). Finally, it may be that the mere possession of the Ring itself, although Isildur never found the strength to master it, conferred some immunity to whatever effect Isildur might otherwise have suffered. But Tolkien never addressed this directly, leaving us free to speculate until we tire of the game.


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Q: I was wondering about your thoughts on Old Man Willow. Do you think he could be some kind of "twisted" Ent (like the Orcs are "twisted" elves) or should we just throw him onto the obscure pile with Tom Bombadil and Goldberry?


A: No, Old Man Willow was not some kind of tortured, de-evolved Ent. Rather, I always figured the Willow might be a Huorn, like the kind we see outside Helm's Deep. Or maybe he was a tree that became more Entish. The dialogue that Treebeard has with Merry and Pippin seems to support the idea that some trees do indeed go bad. He states: "....You find that some have bad hearts." Then Merry later says: "Like the Old Forest away to the north....?" The wise old Ent then agrees, saying: "there is some shadow of the Great Darkness lying there still away north," which seems to refer to the power of Angmar from the distant past. I surmise that without a population of older and competent Ents (doing their job as tree-herds) then the Old Forest might very well have become a place of lingering malice from the time of the Witch-king. Thus, maybe, Old Man Willow could have been become more mobile, more "Ent-like" – showing how wicked and rotten his heart had truly become. This is of course speculation.


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Q: What exactly is the significance of the "white jewel" that Arwen gives Frodo at the end of The Return of the King (and that she gives to Aragorn during the movie)? Does it hold some sort of magic power, or is it just some token of sentimental value? Do you think you could shed some light on this?


A: The pendant that you see in the movies is lovely indeed, but it appears on film quite differently than in Tolkien's books. I am afraid it is a complete invention of the filmmakers. In the movies, it serves as a symbol of love between Aragorn and Arwen. More specifically, it is a "forget-me-not" kind of gift so Aragorn can always remember how devoted Arwen is to him. He loses it, then gets it back, and is reminded again of her devotion. Now the real deal with this white gem, in the books, has a different emotional color. We have no idea what the real white gem looked like. We only know that Frodo received it, hung from a silver chain, with Arwen telling him: "When the memory of fear and darkness troubles you.... this will bring you aid." This gift seems to possess an inherent calming, pacific effect. She thinks it will be needed; and she is right. Nowhere does Tolkien say it could heal Frodo, but as he clutches it in the very last chapter of ROTK, perhaps he is reminded of the healing and peace he felt in the House of Elrond. Perhaps it bestowed on Frodo the gentle grace of Arwen herself. I do not assume, however, that this gem had such great powers as we see in other Elvish artifacts (like the Phial for instance).


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Q: Towards the end of RotK Frodo vows to never use a sword again. True to his word, he never does even though he wears one. This holds true even when he and his friends return to the Shire, see the devastation and are attacked by the ruffians. Why does Frodo choose not to defend himself, his friends or the Shire which he loves so dearly?

Also – after Frodo, Sam, Merry and Pippin return to the Shire, why does it seem like everyone ignores Frodo's good deeds? I do believe that Tolkien points out how Merry and Pippin are thought of more highly and how Frodo falls to the wayside. After everything Frodo and Sam have done you'd think they would be more appreciative.


A: The first of your questions is the more difficult. It's easy to say that Frodo knew that Merry and Pippin and Sam would take care of what needed to be done, but on the other hand, he cautioned them about killing, even of the ruffians, and it's difficult to say whether or not he would have drawn his sword if he had come back alone and had to rally the Shire-hobbits to defend themselves. I can only answer that he felt he'd done enough, felt he'd seen enough violence and bloodshed. It is the more curious given Tolkien's attitude towards pacifism–he felt that some things were worth fighting for and that anybody who would sell peace and freedom to avoid war was weak and poor indeed. On the other hand, he saw horrors in the trenches of World War I that may have led him to select this position for Frodo.

As for your second question, Frodo deliberately keeps more to the background. He tells Sam that it is often that way, that some must fight to save a thing so that others may keep it, and he knows he will not stay in the Shire forever. Merry and Pippin and even Sam appreciated the limelight a little more, and the crowds always flock to those who respond to their adulation. Moreover, Merry and Pippin were the captains of the great battle that threw the ruffians out of the Shire. They were visibly heroes, while Frodo's deeds had been done on a mountain far from the sight or minds of the Hobbits.


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Q: Why did Eru give so much might and power to Morgoth if he knew that he would become evil?


A: Tolkien's creation story was based very much on the Biblical one. As such, you might just as well ask "Why did God create humans if He knew there would be drugs and murder and famine and war? " The answer lies in the concept of free will. God created human beings with free will, and therefore He had to accept that some of them would choose evil. Likewise, Eru created Ainur and Elves and Humans with free will also – even Morgoth. You can't give free will with one hand and control behavior with the other, so if you decide to give free will you have to live with the consequences.


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Q: Greetings! I'm not sure if this has been asked before, but I couldn't find it anywhere, so here goes: Since the Black Riders were invisible, why did they wear cloaks which made them visible? Wouldn't being invisible be a great advantage when it came to hunt down the hobbits?

–Per Chr. Juvkam

A: The Black Riders could not see very well, and therefore probably had trouble even finding their way across country. As for finding one Hobbit in a warren of them, even one bearing the Ring, it was out of the question unless they asked people where they would find Baggins. In order to ask, they had to be visible.

Besides, their very appearance struck terror into the hearts of those they dealt with, and nobody dared mess with them except Aragorn. They had nothing to fear by being visible.


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Questions 04/03
Quick navigation for questions asked this month.
 • Analyzing LOTR a bad thing?
 • Are Orcs born evil?
 • Can they overthrow Sauron again?
 • Can trolls talk like Men?
 • Do Hobbits celebrate Christmas?
 • Does one ever leave Valinor?
 • History of the Palantiri
 • Sindarin translation of Strider?
 • Was Eowyn's wound suffered by Isildur?
 • Was Old Man Willow an Ent?
 • What power in Arwen's white gem?
 • Why does Frodo avoid killing?
 • Why give Morgoth such power?
 • Why wear Nazgul cloaks at all?


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03/01/05 question three

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