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Q: Do you think Sauron could have physically manifested at the end of The Return of the King at the Gates of Mordor? If it is possible for him to manifest, how difficult do you think it would be for a slew of Heroes to defeat him?

– Brewmistress Took

A: The whole thing about Sauron's physical form has been tossed about here in the Q&A section before. The trick is remembering that, yes, he was a spiritual being who had taken on a physical form (even at the end of the Third Age) but he was terrible, I would even say unholy, in appearance. He was not a floating Eyeball. He preferred to work from the Shadows, protecting himself at all costs until he could finally get his Ring back. This is not a question of "could" Sauron appear in person but rather "would" he do so. I imagine the Dark Lord chose not to (although he could have) walk around, taking challenges from the Lords of the West or anybody, until he had absolute certainty, in the form of the Ring, of his own security. It was always Sauron's modus operandi to let lackeys and servants do the dirty work for him, of course. There is no real indication either way that if Sauron did appear at the Black Gate, he could have won his own victory against the Lords of the West. Why should he bother getting his nails dirty when he had zillions of nasty Orcs to take care of the problem?


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Q: I'm completely confused here. My friend says that all Elves were put on the earth at the same time and none more were born, but that can't be right, can it? Because Galadriel is Arwen's grandmother and therefore must have somehow given birth to Arwen's mother who in turn gave birth to Arwen. My friend says that they aren't born in the "normal" way and therefore she reckons "Elf children" don't exist, because they're never mentioned. But that can't be right again, simply because of genealogy! I'm not sure if this question has been asked before, but my friend and I are each determined that the other is wrong, and I would like to prove her wrong! (Hehe, I'm mean!) Thanks for your help!

– Isithradë Elróthiel

A: I honestly cannot imagine where your friend got the idea that Elves aren't born in the "normal" way; there is certainly nothing in Tolkien that supports this odd notion. If the only reason for supposing that Elf children don't exist is that "they're never mentioned," then we might equally conclude that the women of Gondor are never little girls (because little girls are never mentioned), nor Gondorian innkeepers, nor a host of other things that are obviously part of Tolkien's world but never mentioned.

In August 2002, I answered a similar question and quoted some information from an essay Tolkien wrote concerning Elf children; I refer you to that answer. On the matter of the first Elves and their numbers, Tolkien wrote a legend, "Actually written (in style and simple notions) to be a surviving Elvish "fairytale" or child's tale, mingled with counting-lore" (in Tolkien's words), on the awakening of the Quendi, or the Cuivienyarna. It appears in History of Middle-earth Volume XI (The War of the Jewels), and describes the three Elf-fathers and their choosing of companions from among the original 144 Elves who awoke at Cuiviénen.


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Q: I have always wondered about Gandalf's rescue from Celebdil by Gwaihir after he returned to life following his fight with the Balrog. In the text of LotR, Gandalf asks the great Eagle to bear him to Lothlórien, and Gwaihir responds that that is the command of Galadriel, who sent the Eagle to look for him. My first question is, how could Galadriel know (a) that Gandalf was alive and needed rescuing, and (b) that he could be found on that peak or indeed anywhere accessible to an Eagle? All that Galadriel is told (as far as we know) by the fellowship is that Gandalf "fell" while saving the others. By all indications, it seems that everyone assumed that Gandalf was dead, including the fellowship and Galadriel and Celeborn. It seems difficult to assume that Galadriel could "sense" or divine anything to the contrary, as she admits that she "cannot see [Gandalf] from afar… a grey mist is about him, and the ways of his feet and his mind are hidden from [her]." Even if she had no knowledge that he was alive and just wanted to recover his body, it seems odd to send an Eagle to do so, since by all accounts he fell into the earth, deep under the mountain, and certainly a place inaccessible to an Eagle.

My second question is, even assuming she receives some indication that he is alive, why does she not alert the Fellowship to this possibility? In appendix B of LotR, it indicates that Gandalf returns to life on February 14. The fellowship leaves Lórien on February 16. Gandalf is born by Gwaihir to Lórien on February 17, only one day after the Fellowship departs! Surely Galadriel had dispatched the Eagle to search for Gandalf prior to the Fellowship's departure. Why then did she not at least inform them of this? It seems inconceivable that Galadriel had some knowledge or inclination that Gandalf still lived yet had not relayed this information to the Fellowship. Any thoughts? Thanks.

– Joe W.

A: Seemingly difficult questions at first, but not necessarily if we remember the natures of both Galadriel and Gandalf. 1) Gandalf was not human, and Galadriel knew this. Tolkien tells us that Círdan knew what the Istari really were and that he communicated his knowledge to Elrond and Galadriel. The very fact that she could not see him "from afar," which implies that he was not a good subject for the Mirror, indicates that he is something high and set apart, and Galadriel would have made her deductions accordingly. That being said, she would assume that he could not be killed easily, and though she would have no real way of knowing for sure that he was alive, she would have decided that a search for him would not do any harm. Regardless of where he was, an Eagle was the swiftest means of search -- Elves on foot would have availed nothing, they could not get back into Moria, and Galadriel would probably not have sent them to try. 2) Whatever Galadriel may have suspected about Gandalf's whereabouts, she knew nothing would be gained by raising the hopes of the Company, hopes that she could not begin to guarantee would be answered. She had no way of knowing what Gwaihir would find, how long he would be gone, what he would tell her when he came back. For all she knew, the Company had lost Gandalf for the duration, whether he was actually dead or alive, and she clearly felt it best that they be able to mourn him as though he were dead and not get their hearts set on false hopes.


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Q: What does Aragorn mean when he said the Ringwraiths, as they were, are only a shadow to what their power could be if Sauron got the One Ring back?

– Alex Walker

A: You can think of the Nazgûl as being controlled and directed by the force of Sauron's will. Obviously, had the Enemy recovered the One Ring the largest, most potent resurgence of his power would result. Therefore all his devices, servants, and creatures would be increased in power too (fueled by his will). I tend to think of the Nazgûl as puppets. They operated at a level consistent with Sauron's will, for it was he who manipulated them to do everything they did. If Sauron returned to his greatest strength, they would become mightier than ever before.


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Q: During the thousands of years that the Ring lay quiet on the bottom of the river (and in Gollum's cave and in Bilbo's care), what were the Nazgûl doing? Sitting around playing poker?

– Griddy

A: For the first 1300 years of the Third Age, the Nazgûl -- perhaps themselves weakened when the Master Ring was lost -- are not mentioned in the Tale of Years. Dol Guldur is occupied around 1100, about 50 years after a new shadow falls on Greenwood and its name becomes Mirkwood. It may be that the Nazgûl were active in preparing the way for Sauron's occupation of Dol Guldur at this time, and some may well have served Sauron in terrorizing Mirkwood and environs from that time on. The Witch-king is quite active from 1300 on, but the activities of the other Nazgûl are unknown for 500 years; in 1980, the Witch-king comes to Mordor and gathers the other Nazgûl there. They are involved in the capture of Minas Ithil and some or all of the Nazgûl were evidently Sauron's lieutenants in Mordor from that point on.

One can only conjecture what the Nazgûl did during the times they were not mentioned explicitly in the Tale of Years. One possibility is that they were sent East and South as 'recruiting' agents to the human kingdoms there, swaying the populace and rulers through terror and intimidation. I have always felt that gaps like this provide the best opportunities for 'fan fiction'. Did the Nazgûl go east? What were the eastern kingdoms like? What sort of Men opposed them? Were the mysterious Blue Wizards still there to give aid to the foes of the Shadow? Tolkien never gave much consideration to these questions, and so someone else might do a good job of answering them!


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Q: I've read LotR a few times and I've always been intrigued by one thing. In The Fellowship of the Ring, chapter "Lothlórien," Tolkien says "When he had gone and passed again to the outer world, still Frodo the wanderer from the Shire would walk there, upon the grass among the elanor and niphredil in fair Lothlórien." Did he mean simply in a clear, vivid memory (as Legolas tells Glóin "at the least reward that you shall have is that the memory of Lothlórien shall remain ever clear and unstained in your heart" from "Farewell to Lórien") or does he mean something else? For awhile I thought it referred to Lórien the gardens of Irmo in the Blessed Realm, but I don't think that it is ever referred to as "Lothlórien" as the passage in The Fellowship of the Ring specifies. It's a silly question, but I'm interested in any insight you might have.

– R.P.

A: There's always a danger of taking things too literally in Tolkien. Here I think we'd be well advised to postulate a sort of netherworld in between literalism and imagination. Given the peculiar qualities of Lothlórien, I think it's safe to say that the land would retain a memory of his passage, that the souls of the people who come there are imprinted, so to speak. Remember that wonderful passage about Aragorn on the hill of Cerin Amroth, or rather at the foot of it -- "and he spoke words in the Elvish tongue to someone whom Frodo could not see." These words are to Arwen, and we know that their troth was plighted on that hill. It seems that he could probably almost see her spirit walking there still, just as on the day when they became betrothed. And undoubtedly, as you say, Frodo himself would retain a very vivid memory of walking in Lórien -- so it is kind of a mutual imprint, the land upon Frodo and Frodo upon the land. The land would remember him always walking there, no matter what happened to him in the future, just as he would always remember walking there.


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Q: In The Lost Road we can read: "It is to be observed that according to the judgment of Manwë Dior, Thingol's Heir, son of Beren, was mortal respective of the choice of his mother." (Quenta Silmarillion) So Dior was considered as a Man and not as an Elf. What do you think about this?…


also: My question is could Aragorn's and Arwen's son be Elven if he chose? Dior was allowed to be Elven even though Lúthien decided to become mortal. Since Arwen made the exact same decision "The choice of Lúthien" could Aragorn's son become Elven?

–Brad Ventre

also: Something's been bothering my mind for quite some times now. The Prince of Dol Amroth had obviously some Elvish blood in his veins. Why didn't he have to choose between humankind and the Elvish kind? Was it because he didn't have any Maia blood, like Elrond and company?

–Julien D.

A: Tolkien addresses the question of the Half-elven at length in Letter #153, as I pointed out in July 2001 (at that time I marveled at how many times we get variations on this same question). Here we will discuss the specific passage regarding Manwë's doom, and the case of Dior.

Dior, described as "half-elven" in places, appears to be an exceptional case. It does not seem to me that he 'chose' to be Elven, but he was certainly recognized as such, both by the Elves who immediately accepted him as Thingol's heir, and by the chronicler who wrote in Appendix A that there were exactly three unions of the Eldar and Edain -- and these did not include Dior and Nimloth. There was no specific judgment nor choice involved that I can recall -- Dior, as Lúthien's son, is simply taken to be of the Elven kin.

Manwë's judgment in the Quenta Silmarillion (which Christopher Tolkien refers to in his note quoted above) was stated to apply specifically to Eärendil and his sons (and remember, Arwen was not yet imagined when JRRT wrote this), and Dior had already been slain by that time. However, 'it is to be observed' that when Christopher Tolkien adapted the paragraph in question for the published Silmarillion, he chose to omit the line that "all those who have the blood of mortal Men, in whatever part, great or small, are mortal, unless other doom be granted to them," perhaps because he felt that it would call into question Dior's status as an Elf (albeit "Half-elven"). Nevertheless, that appears to be the rule that Tolkien followed. See Letter #153 (or my quote) for further details; also see Quickbeam's answer to a similar question last month, also quoting from that letter.


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Q: In The History of Middle-earth XII: "The Peoples of Middle-earth," Christopher. Tolkien says he has recently identified the previously announced "illegible" reverse side of his father's Essay on the Istari. Within this Tolkien gives the names Morinehtar and Rómestámo in relation to the Ithryn Luin. Have we got here the real names of the Blue Wizards? And if so, why has no "fuss" been made about it, and why do people still refer to the Ithryn Luin as Alatar and Pallando?

– William Dean

A: Probably simply because Unfinished Tales came out in 1980, when we learned of Alatar and Pallando, whereas "Peoples of Middle-earth" came out in 1996. And old habits die hard. But we don't really have any reason to give primacy to either set of names, unlike with Gandalf, whom we almost always refer to as Gandalf, while he had many other names as well (Olórin, Mithrandir, Incánus, etc.), since we really don't know much of the history of the Blue Wizards.


I would also add that the names Morinehtar and Rómestámo are, unlike Alatar and Pallando, translated for us (Darkness-Slayer and East-Helper), and so give the impression of being functions or titles, especially in context: "[they] were sent for a different purpose. Morinehtar… [etc]" So Alatar and Pallando, whose interpretations are less obvious (they seem to be related to roots for 'wide' and 'far') "feel more like names". One can even imagine, had Tolkien developed their stories more, that both names could appear in apposition, as, for example, "Alatar Morinehtar", Alatar the Darkness-slayer; or the latter names might be their Middle-earth 'aliases', as "Mithrandir" is an alias for Olórin (but who would give them these aliases? The Elves knew nothing of them). All this, of course, is entirely hypothetical speculation, supported by nothing in Tolkien's writings other than his style of naming.


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Q: I don't have the exact figures at hand, but I remember reading in Unfinished Tales that when Eorl led the Rohirrim to the aid of Gondor, he had some 7,000 cavalry and some hundreds of horse archers. Similarly, when Théoden rides to the battle of the Pelennor, he has some 7,000 cavalry. Now, assuming there were losses to both armies before they left for Gondor, it seems to me that the basic population of Rohan needed to field a 7,000-man-plus army is given as too low. Most societies base a military on about 3-5 percent of the population, to keep the economy viable in times of war. However, Tolkien repeatedly uses quotes such as "every able-bodied man"…etc. This implies a far higher percentage of the total population was called upon for war. If every one of those 7,000 men were married with two children, it would set Rohan's total population at 28,000-plus. And logically, not all of these men would be married with two children. So how could Rohan be sustained? It's similar to Gondor in its decline. There is a point below which the population is simply not viable to sustain the civilization, and it appears to me that Rohan, at least, could not have existed the way Tolkien described it.

– Mike Gershon

A: I am not sure I fully agree with your conclusion. Looking at the back-story of Rohan (some of which is in Appendix A), I fail to see what could be construed as "faulty history building." The Rohirrim were descended from Men who once lived in the far north (the éothéod), and though we don't have specific numbers from Tolkien, when they first arrived in the area that would become Rohan they were probably in very large numbers. Tolkien explains that the éothéod were numerous during their time "near the sources of Anduin," thus they had to push outward to other lands as their population expanded. But things certainly changed; and at the end of the Third Age they were indeed MUCH fewer.

There is a section in Karen Wynn Fonstad's Atlas of Middle-earth where she shows population density all across Middle-earth in three different Ages. She states: "Middle-earth's population at the end of the Third Age was extremely sparse. The Elves had continued to sail west … The Dwarves had been driven from their homes … The realms of Arnor had been virtually depopulated by war and plague." And of the Rohirrim she writes: "Their greatest concentrations were near Edoras and in the Westfold Vale. The Wold was used mainly for pasturage." Tolkien himself considered the problem of Rohan's depopulation. He implies in Appendix A that after the Fell Winter of T.A. 2758 that Rohan was lucky it did not suffer more loss of life, for that would have resulted in exactly what you have suggested: the failure of the civilization. Tolkien states: "The Rohirrim were grievously reduced by war and dearth and loss of cattle and horses; and it was well that no great danger threatened them again for many years, for it was not until the time of King Folcwine that they recovered their former strength." So Tolkien had considered this issue, and he ultimately reasoned there was indeed enough of a population in Rohan to support the nation and its culture.


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Q: Hi! In The Book of Lost Tales, Part 2, Gothmog, the captain of the Balrogs, was described as "a son of Morgoth and the ogress Fluithuin," yet in Morgoth's Ring, Tolkien wrote that "Evil is fissiparous. But itself barren. Morgoth could not 'beget', or have any spouse." Why would Tolkien change his mind concerning this (other than the idea of having many little dark lords and ladies running around)? Where did the Balrogs come from anyway? Thank you.

– D.U.

A: Why would Tolkien change his mind? You would have to ask Tolkien! One part of it, however, seems to be that Tolkien decided, probably sometime around the time that Lord of the Rings was completed, that the idea of spiritual beings begetting children was unsatisfactory, perhaps because of the question of where the child-spirit's soul comes from -- would Eru create a new Vala or Maia soul? It would undermine the special place of Elves and Men (and, by adoption, Dwarves) as the Children of Ilúvatar. In any case, we see, for example, the description of Fionwe change from the "son of Manwë" to the "herald of Manwë" in the later stages of the mythology, and there are no later references to the children of the Valar in any general sense. This makes Melian and Thingol a very special case, which may have been part of Tolkien's intention.

Tolkien's description of evil, in general, as barren is part of a discussion -- or, perhaps more accurately, an exploration -- of the underlying philosophical and theological motives in The Silmarillion. It is clear in this essay that Morgoth was a spirit bent on domination and destruction -- the very opposite of the life-giving operation of 'begetting'. Throughout Tolkien's writing after Lord of the Rings we see the theme that Morgoth and Sauron (and even Saruman) are incapable of true creation--they can only twist and pervert the works of others.

In this 'model' of the world, the Balrogs are just as Tolkien described them in the Valaquenta: "For of the Maiar many were drawn to his [Morgoth's] splendour in the days of his greatness, and remained in that allegiance down into his darkness; and others he corrupted afterwards to his service with lies and treacherous gifts. Dreadful among these spirits were the Valaraukar, the scourges of fire that in Middle-earth were called the Balrogs, demons of terror." The Balrogs are corrupted spirits who have taken the form of demons of fire and shadow.


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Q: I just wanted to know if Tolkien ever revealed how Galadriel came to know that she finally had permission to return to Valinor. Also, did she know beforehand that by refusing the Ring she would be allowed to return?

– cutemara

A: According to what Ostadan tell me, it seems the ban on Galadriel returning to Valinor was first explained by Professor Tolkien in "The Road Goes Ever On," which is a songbook containing further discussion of Galadriel's Namárië. At the moment of the Fellowship's departure from Lórien, she sings another song of farewell, asking aloud: "What ship would bear me ever back across so wide a Sea?" The suggestion is clear -- she does not realize at that point the ban had been lifted. I am confident that she did not refuse the Ring because she knew beforehand it would produce such a result! It should be noted Tolkien went round and round with the details of Galadriel's back story, and as time went on he added and changed significant amounts of stuff. Ostadan seems to think that either (a) she knew at some point after Frodo left by her own "divine insight" that she could return to the Blessed Realm; or more likely (b) Gandalf told her when he arrived in the Golden Wood. It makes sense that Gandalf would have some direct knowledge of such matters after he made that little side trip to oblivion, and was afterward sent back by Ilúvatar himself.


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Q: Is there anywhere in Tolkien's work where the Lay of Gil-galad is told in full, or is it just a case of what you see (in LotR) is what you get? Kind regards,

– Dainsey

A: No, sadly enough. The little bits of this verse that we hear from Samwise (when they camp on Weathertop) are all that exist. It would be lovely to have this tale spun in full, but Tolkien never drafted any other elements of it.


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Q: Aragorn, Gimli, Legolas, Pippin AND Merry all use their Elvish cloaks to not be seen multiple times, but the entire time they're in Mordor, Frodo and Sam don't even use them once, even though they're in the most danger of being seen. Do they just not know that they can use them to hide? Or did Tolkien just think that it would lessen the danger of the story to have them use them all the time?

– Joshua Allen

A: But the cloaks were not a voluntary or "magic" thing. For example, despite Peter Jackson, it's not like there was a switch you could flip to make yourself look like a rock. It was simply that the cloaks tended to blend into their environment. You couldn't count for sure on somebody not seeing you. And Frodo and Sam hide all the time -- in gullies, ditches, wherever they can find, but the one time they're actually captured, the Orcs passed right along the road where they were -- even the cloaks won't hide you from up close. The Rohirrim saw Aragorn etc. when they got close. It just isn't a failsafe device -- more like a subtle aid than anything else.


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Q: Why didn't Gollum ever go look for Bilbo in the Shire? Why go to Mordor / Mirkwood, etc. but not where he knew Bilbo was?

– Bill

A: "Ah," said Gandalf, "now we come to it. I think Gollum tried to. He set out and came back westward, as far as the Great River. But then he turned aside. He was not daunted by the distance, I am sure. No, something else drew him away. So my friends think, those that hunted him for me."

And of course he goes on to state that Gollum wound up in Mordor. Why Mordor? Would YOU go to Mordor voluntarily for no apparent reason? Of course not. The key lies in that comment "something else drew him away." Undoubtedly the mark of the Ring was on him, and undoubtedly the growing power of Sauron drew Gollum down to give whatever information could be had. Gandalf goes on:

"Mordor draws all wicked things, and the Dark Power was bending all its will to gather them there. The Ring of the Enemy would leave its mark, too, leave him open to the summons. And all folk were whispering then of the new Shadow in the South, and its hatred of the West. There were his fine new friends, who would help him in his revenge!"

In addition to being drawn by Sauron, Gollum probably thought he could find help in getting the Ring back and making Bilbo pay for having taken it. Alas!


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Q: I was reading The Silmarillion again, and it said the Dwarves had a great mansion: Khazad-dûm, the Dwarrowdelf, and it was "far off in the Mountains of Mist beyond the wide regions of Eriador." My problem is after the world was changed, would this be the exact same Khazad-dûm, Mountains of Mist (The Misty Mountains), and Eriador in the Third Age? Or am I missing something totally obvious? Please help!

– Miriel

A: "And all the coasts and seaward regions of the western world suffered great change and ruin in that time; for the seas invaded the lands, and shores foundered, and ancient isles were drowned, and new isles were uplifted; and hills crumbled and rivers were turned into strange courses." When Númenor vanished into the Sea, it wasn't the entire Middle-earth that was ruined. Númenor was gone, but only the western seacoasts, apparently, were ruined and changed. By a simple comparison of maps, we see from the map at the beginning of The Silmarillion that there was a great deal of land, Beleriand, westward of the Ered Luin or Blue Mountains. But on the map at the beginning of The Lord of the Rings, the Blue Mountains are very nearly the westernmost thing in Middle-earth. Therefore it appears that everything west of the Blue Mountains was messed up when Númenor was drowned, but it may be supposed that everything eastward, including the Misty Mountains and thus Khazad-dûm, was spared and more or less the same. Most definitely there was never more than one set of Misty Mountains or more than one Khazad-dûm -- it was all the same from Age to Age.


Update: Alert readers David, Simon, Dan, Graeme, Guy, Alan, Brian, Martin, have written in to point out my large gaffe this month. Numenor was destroyed well after Beleriand had already sunk. The passage I quoted above was from The Silmarillion, Alkallabêth, but Beleriand had its destruction much earlier. The Silmarillion, Of the Voyage of Eärendil and the War of Wrath, describes how the hosts descended upon Morgoth once again, defeated him, and broke and ruined Angband, and when the dust had cleared:

"…and they looked upon a world that was changed. For so great was the fury of those adversaries that the northern regions of the western world were rent asunder, and the sea roared in through many chasms, and there was confusion and great noise; and rivers perished for found new paths, and the valleys were upheaved and the hills trod down; and Sirion was no more."

From the index:

"Beleriand was broken in the turmoils at the end of the First Age, and invaded by the sea, so that only Ossiriand (Lindon) remained."

I can only plead "hastiness" that led me to attribute the sinking of Beleriand to the same time and cataclysm that destroyed Numenor. My original conclusion, at least, is correct: that when Beleriand was destroyed, it was Beleriand only, and the interior of Middle-earth, where lie the Misty Mountains and Moria, were relatively unchanged.

Thanks for keeping me on my toes!


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Questions 06/03
Quick navigation for questions asked this month.
 • Could Sauron appear at the Black Gate?
 • Do Elves have children?
 • Galadriel knows Gandalf is alive?
 • Is Nazgul power related to Sauron?
 • Nazgul activity over the centuries
 • The memory of Lothlorien
 • The question of Elven heritage
 • The REAL Blue Wizards' names
 • Was Rohan critically depopulated?
 • Were the Balrogs Morgoth's children?
 • When was the ban on Galadriel lifted?
 • Where is the Lay of Gil-galad?
 • Were there two Dwarrowdelfs?
 • Why not use their Elven cloaks?
 • Why wouldn't Gollum go to the Shire?


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