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Q: At the time that Saruman openly shows himself as a traitor to the cause of the Free Peoples he ceases to wear the white robes and takes on the form of "Saruman of Many Colors." As well, when Gandalf is sent back to Middle-earth after his death in battle with the Balrog he returns wearing the white robes. My question concerns the leadership of the White Council, originally lead by Saruman before he turned upon the Free Peoples. At what point does Saruman lose his leadership of the Council? Does it occur when he becomes "Many Colored," when Gandalf returns as "The White," or when he is defeated by the armies of Rohan and the Ents? Is there a point at which he is officially deposed of his office, and who is given the seat in his place? I had assumed it was Gandalf, but I can not find any text to confirm this.

–Joe Salemo

A: I am of two minds about how Saruman got fired from his job (so to speak). The first requires an examination of his heart and the inner workings of his twisted malice, fed by pride and ego. My friend Anwyn wrote a remarkable essay about this very aspect of Saruman over in her Counterpoint section. As Tolkien devised, there must have been a certain point when he became lost to his jealous desires. In my opinion, this moment of internal motivation, however unknown or untraceable by others, would have been the point when Saruman lost his place as leader of the White Council. But, as you well know, he kept his traitorous leanings a secret long enough to keep his role and position among The Wise. His façade was truly remarkable: he played along and none of them had a clue. Little did they know what would eventually become of their misplaced trust in Saruman. He still functioned as ‘leader’ to all outward appearances, and the other Istari and Eldar who made up the Council still came to him for counsel. But he was no longer being helpful or altruistic, no longer truly LEADING.

It was Gandalf who was doing the real leading at that point, if anyone. I make this statement based upon Gandalf’s motivations, actions, and adherence to the original purpose which the Valar conferred upon him. Indeed, Gandalf’s active leadership and influence with the Free Peoples was often going on whether Saruman collaborated or not. Your assumption is correct, in that sense.

Some purists would say that Saruman was utterly relieved of his power and status when Gandalf broke his staff… that that was the defining moment when he was no longer an Istari. Also, in "The Tale of Years" we learn that after the year T.A. 2953 there were no official meetings of the White Council, nor would there be during the course of LOTR. Technically, the Council never reconvened after The War of the Ring… so you could get away with saying that no one individual ever held the seat of ‘leader’ after Saruman. Again, it depends on whether you’re discussing leadership as just a surface title or as a broader concept of choices and forthright action.


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Q: I have a question for you. Were the Seven Fathers of the Dwarves reawakened before the Humans entered the world?


A: Aulë made the Seven Fathers of the Dwarves in secret, before the coming of the Firstborn to Middle-earth. Ilúvatar rebuked him, but allowed Aulë’s creation to have a place in the world. However, Ilúvatar would not let the Dwarves come into the world first–he told Aulë:

I will not suffer this: that these should come before the Firstborn of my design . . . They shall sleep now in the darkness under stone, and shall not come forth until the Firstborn have awakened upon Earth (The Silmarillion, Chapter 2).

The Firstborn are, of course, the Elves. So it appears that the Dwarves were allowed to reawaken before the coming of Men into the world. In "The Annals of Aman" (found in Morgoth’s Ring), the year for the awakening of the Elves is given as 1050 (in years of the Valar, which are approximately ten times longer than our year), and the Dwarves entered into Beleriand in 1250, when they became known to the Elves. The Aftercomers, or Men, appeared around the years 1495 to 1500.


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Q: What does "Evenstar" mean? Is it just a nice name? In my mind, just as a name (not linked to LotR, like if you just heard it in the street), it implies great purity, beauty and wisdom. It is one of the most amazing sounds I have ever heard. Tolkien truly is great. Do you know if "Evenstar" actually means anything?

--Yotam Weiner

A: Evenstar is the translation of the name Undómiel. "Evenstar" is simply English shorthand for "evening star," and "Undómiel" comes from word-roots "undome," which means star-opening or twilight, and "iel," which is simply a feminine name-suffix. "So it was that Frodo saw her whom few mortals had yet seen; Arwen, daughter of Elrond, in whom it was said that the likeness of Luthien had come on earth again,; and she was called Undómiel, for she was the Evenstar of her people." This seems to mean that Arwen is the last great beauty, the last princess of her Elven-line. When the Evening Star has risen, nightfall cannot be far behind. When Gimli and Éomer resolve their difference of opinion concerning the comparative beauty of Arwen and Galadriel, Gimli says thus: "You have chosen the Evening (meaning Éomer prefers Arwen), but my love is given to the Morning (Galadriel). And my heart forebodes that soon it will pass away forever." He is referring to Galadriel’s imminent departure over-Sea. She is one of the oldest scions of her race, while Arwen, though still much older than most humans, is one of the youngest, and is living through the twilight of the age of her people–the Elves will pass over-Sea, and time of the Dominion of Man will begin.


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Q: Is there any mention of the lands east of Mordor or the Sea of Rhûn? Are they even named or at all described?

–Bill Ferny

A: Funny you should ask! This was the subject of my Out on a Limb feature last June. The lands of Rhûn are only mentioned twice in the course of LOTR, and indeed they are only brief references to lands far to the East.

Although the Professor mapped these places himself, there is precious little information about the geography, flora, or inhabitants. Without any of Tolkien’s characters travelling first-hand through Rhûn, we simply don’t have a clear account. There are so many places in the world of Arda that fall under the heading "Mystery Locales." We may see them on maps or hear characters mention something in passing, yet we are never taken there with the same descriptive affection that Tolkien uses for the main passages of his books. I daydream about these places constantly.


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Q: I am currently reading LOTR for the second time, and in The Return of the King, Chapter Minas Tirith, Book 5, page 738 and line 24, Gandalf said: "The other is with Théoden of Rohan and may come hereafter. Halflings they are, as you can see, yet this is not he of whom the OMENS spoke."

I would like to know where does it explain in LOTR about what the omens spoke? Who told them and where did the omens originate from?

–Hussain Yafai

A: Gandalf spoke this line to Denethor, after he and Pippin had arrived in Minas Tirith, and entered the hall to speak with Denethor. Gandalf refers to the dream (that came often to Faramir, and once to Boromir) which Boromir recounted at the Council of Elrond, where he heard a voice remote but clear crying:

Seek for the Sword that was broken:
In Imladris it dwells;
There shall be counsels taken
Stronger than Morgul-spells.
There shall be shown a token
That Doom is near at hand,
For Isildur’s Bane shall waken,
And the Halfling forth shall stand.

Gandalf tells Denethor that Pippin is not the Halfling of whom the omens spoke, for that of course is Frodo.


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Q: My question is about the Blessed Realm: When in Rivendell, after the incident at the Ford, Frodo questions Gandalf about the shining figure of white light (Glorfindel). Gandalf tells him something like "Those who have dwelt in the Blessed Realm live at once in two worlds..." Does this mean that the Black Riders, who also dwell in two worlds, have been to the Blessed Realm?


A: No. My stars, what a heinous supposition that would be! JThe Nine Riders were originally human, lords of Men, corrupted by the unholy power of the Nine Rings "for mortal Men doomed to die….’ The power of the Nine Rings was such that the Men did not die; they exist in a profane sort of immortality, existing primarily in the spiritual world, but well able to influence events in the physical world. The fact that they are in both worlds is attributable to the power of the Rings, not to any trip to the Blessed Realm. The Blessed Realm was the home of Elves; mortals were not, under general rules, permitted there.


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Q: Here is a question that has been bothering me. Andúril, the sword of Aragorn, was reforged by Elvish smiths in Rivendell. So far, all Elvish blades mentioned in the books have had spells laid upon them, which makes them "glow" when evil is near. I have found no sign of Andúril "glowing," and was wondering if any spells were placed on it.


A: Originally, Andúril was not an Elvish blade at all. It was in fact made by a Dwarf name Telchar going way back to the First Age. In The Two Towers Aragorn says this about his blade:

In this elvish sheath dwells the Blade that was Broken and has been made again. Telchar first wrought it in the deeps of time.

You’d think it likely the Elven smiths in Elrond’s service would have asserted themselves and imbued the sword with the familiar magical characteristics found in other blades. But apparently they decided that fidelity to Telchar’s work was the priority–and should not be deviated from. They labored solely to return Andúril back to its original state. No blue glowing here, thank you very much.


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Q: I am interested in your opinion on the following issue: Of the company accompanying Aragorn along the Paths of the Dead, only Legolas felt no fear. Why was Legolas unafraid of the ghosts of Men? Are Elves more innately courageous than Men or Dwarves? Or, having had such a strong relationship with the Ainur, are Elves more in touch with supernatural or magical forces? Or, being immortal, can Elves better relate to the idea of immortal souls (even though neither the Elves nor the Ainur know what happens to the spirits of men after they die)?


A: In "The Passing of the Grey Company" (Chapter 2 of The Return of the King), after Gimli has agreed to follow Aragorn through the Paths of the Dead, Legolas says: "I also will come, for I do not fear the Dead." Within the framework of The Lord of the Rings, this could be interpreted in any of the ways suggested above. However, any simple answer doesn’t seem to suffice, especially after one considers the remarkable Athrabeth Finrod ah Andreth, "The Debate of Finrod and Andreth," which is published in Morgoth’s Ring. The Athrabeth is a conversation between Finrod Felagund, King of Nargothrond, and Andreth, a human wise-woman (and kinswoman to Beren), concerning the beliefs of the Eldar and of Men as regards immortality and the afterlife. To try to summarize it here would be extremely difficult, so I’ll just say that anyone interested in a long answer to the above question should have a look at the Athrabeth in Morgoth’s Ring. There is another text in the same volume which should also be consulted, and that is "Laws and Customs among the Eldar."


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Q: I have had trouble figuring out the main thematic ideas contained in these books. There seems to be a definite religious motif, and I was wondering if Tolkien is comparing Frodo to Jesus…he is "resurrected" three days after his fall at the Ford of Bruinen (just as Christ rose after three days). When he destroys the Ring, he becomes the savior of the world. Gandalf too is resurrected, and is a savior. Is religion the main thematic idea? I have not read the Silmarillion, so I don’t know if it contributes to this motif/theme. Are
there other themes present in this book?


A: Okay, there are several questions here. Firstly, it should be stated at the outset that Tolkien "despised allegory," that is, stories with purposeful symbolism intended by the author. So he would never have intended for Frodo to be a symbol for Christ, very much unlike C. S. Lewis who was obvious in his writings of The Chronicles of Narnia, that the lion Aslan was indeed the Christ of that world. I have held a conversation with a reader who draws parallels between Aragorn and Christ, but I am firmly convinced that Tolkien had no such intention of comparing any of the characters in Lord of the Rings to Christ. That being said, we move on to the question of whether religion is the main thematic idea.

In The Silmarillion, Tolkien lays out his own "creation myth." It follows along Biblical lines only insofar as there is the One, Eru, Ilúvatar, who creates the Ainur, who subsequently help him fashion the world. Eru can be compared to God, Ainur, in a limited fashion, to angels. (C. S. Lewis’ "eldils" are another facet of this idea.) The myth continues to follow the Biblical tales of origin as we see the fall of the highest-ranking Ainur into sin and evil (Melkor or Morgoth, who can be compared to Lucifer).

Beyond the existence of Eru and the Valar (specialized Ainur whose job is to watch over the Circles of the World and the Blessed Realm), and the evil of Melkor, there are no further direct, overt references to any current established religion in Lord of the Rings. However, the primary theme of the book is the fight of Good vs. Evil, and the moral norms of most modern religions are prized throughout: responsibility, attentiveness to duty, kind and just treatment of others, justice and punishment of evil. For a more expansive treatment of these themes, you might want to check out my oldest Counterpoints, including "Good and Evil," "Justice, Mercy, and Redemption."

So Good triumphing over Evil is the main theme of Lord of the Rings. Given the fact that most religions are striving for Goodness to win out over Evil, there are certainly parallels to be drawn. But Tolkien intended such interpretations to lie in "the freedom of the reader," and not in "the purposed dominion of the author" (his comments on allegory). So while we are free to draw interpretations, it would be extremely misleading, at best, to say that religion was the main theme. Frodo was never "resurrected;" he was merely saved from an untimely death through the healing powers of Elrond. Gandalf made a sacrifice for the good of the Company and all of Middle-earth; he was indeed "resurrected" in the physical body, and also he was never really human to begin with. All of these facts are similar to the circumstances of Jesus’ death and resurrection, but given that sacrifice is often necessary for good to triumph, I don’t see that it’s necessary to beat readers over the head with a specific symbolic connection to Christ that Tolkien most likely didn’t intend. I’ll take Gandalf as a reminder of Christ’s sacrifice, yes, but not view Gandalf as Christ; given Tolkien’s attitude towards allegory and his own very private, very deeply-held faith, I feel that would be borderline sacrilegious.


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Questions 07/00
Quick navigation for questions asked this month.
 • True Leader of the White Council
 • Seven Fathers of the Dwarves
 • What does Evenstar mean?
 • The Lands to the East
 • Of Whom the Omens Spoke
 • Black Rider in Blessed Realm?
 • Anduril Doesn't Glow
 • Legolas not Afraid
 • Thematic ideas of LOTR


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