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Q: If Gandalf and Sauron are both Maiar, then they are both on the same level of power right? So why couldn't they match each other power for power. Why is Sauron always considered more powerful than Gandalf and the rest of the Istari? Was there some restriction set by the Valar? Also if Sauron did manage to get the One Ring and rule Middle-earth, could there be a chance that he could overthrow them?

– Ayranis of Imladris

A: Let's examine your basic premise. "If Gandalf and Sauron are both Maiar, then they are both on the same level of power, right?" "If Arnold Schwarzenegger and I are both humans, then we have the same physical strength, right?" "If George Bush and Saddam Hussein are both presidents of nations, then they must have the same level of power, right?" You see my point. Gandalf (Olórin) and Sauron are both Maiar, but Maiar have different levels of power -- and those levels of power can change, as in the case of Saruman and Sauron, whose power is dissipated beyond recollection at the end of the book.

But your specific question is about why Gandalf, even enhanced as Gandalf the White, could not match Sauron's power directly. Tolkien wrote (Letter #156), "He is still under the obligation of concealing his power and of teaching rather than forcing or dominating wills, but where the physical powers of the Enemy are too great for the good will of the opposers to be effective he can act in emergency as an 'angel' -- no more violently than the release of St. Peter from prison. He seldom does so, operating through others…" [followed by the citations of Gandalf's direct actions in rescuing Faramir and forbidding the Witch-king from entering Minas Tirith]. As to why the Istari were so constrained, we need only look at Saruman, who attempted to match Sauron's force and 'beat him at his own game' -- the result that he just became a Sauron wannabe, as we say in this latter age.

Aman had been removed from the rounded world not by the Valar, but by Ilúvatar Himself. It seems unlikely that Sauron or any forces at his command could even reach Aman uninvited, let alone overcome the Valar [Editor's note: Quickbeam quietly disagrees on this assumption]. But perhaps Sam understood best of all as he stood in Mordor: "There, peeping among the cloud-wrack above a dark tor high up in the mountain, Sam saw a white star twinkle for a while. The beauty of it smote his heart, as he looked up out of the forsaken land, and hope returned to him. For like a shaft, clear and cold, the thought pierced him that in the end the Shadow was only a small and passing thing: there was light and high beauty for ever beyond its reach". [I personally love this passage. I dearly hope that Boyens and Jackson have found some way to represent it in the film.]


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Q: You once mentioned "Bilbo living in Valinor" in another Q&A article. I had always thought the Ringbearers went to Valinor, but someone on the TORN reading room corrected me, saying that they were only allowed as far as the Lonely Isle, Tol Eressëa. Is the island considered Valinor? Was my informant wrong? Or can you reference that he was correct?

–EldersisofMerry (Christa)

Also: I recently read in The Silmarillion that the messengers of the Valar said that mortals would not be able to withstand being in the Blessed Realm . "There you would wither and grow weary the sooner, as moths in a light too strong and steadfast". It's my understanding that Frodo was sent over Sea to gain peace and to heal from his mental and physical wounds before dying. As a mortal, how was Frodo able to do this if this realm was not designed for mortals to be able to tolerate? Was he given a special grace that allowed this to be possible? I'm also curious where he actually went; was it Tol Eressëa, or Valinor?

– Joan

A: Tolkien considered the implications of this very passage in an essay published in "Morgoth's Ring" (The History of Middle-earth Volume X) as "Text XI" in the section "Myths Transformed". The section is long and not easily summarized, but Tolkien's meaning is roughly that a Man in Aman would still have the soul and nature of a Man, and that nature is to seek beyond the world and depart. In Aman, where a man's 100 years (or so) are as little more than a half year, while other creatures would seem to him hardly to change, the man's sense of injustice and rage at his own mortality would be so increased: "He would not escape the fear and sorrow of his swift mortality that is his lot upon Earth, in Arda Marred, but would be burdened by it unbearably to the loss of all delight."

The case of Frodo (and Bilbo and Sam) is different -- they have already accepted their mortality, and (as Tolkien writes in Note 4 to the Athrabeth Finrod Ah Andreth in the same Volume), "It was in any case a special grace. An opportunity for dying according to the original plan for the unfallen: they went to a state in which they could acquire greater knowledge and peace of mind, and being healed of all hurts both of mind and body, could at last surrender themselves: die of free will, and even of desire, in estel. A thing which Aragorn achieved without any such aid."

In another note (attached to an Appendix to the Athrabeth), Tolkien considered the mystery of what happens to mortal souls -- are they summoned to Mandos? "The exact nature of existence in Aman or Eressëa after their 'removal' must be dubious and unexplained" as must the question of "how 'mortals' could go there at all. …The sojourn of Frodo in Eressëa -- then on to Mandos? -- was only an extended form of this. Frodo would eventually leave the world (desiring to do so). So that the sailing in ship was equivalent to death."

This is one of two places I know of where Tolkien mentions Eressëa as Frodo's destination; most of the time he simply refers to Frodo and the others passing to the West, or over the Sea, or similar phrases. The other is in an interesting letter drafter to a 'Mr. Rang' (Letters #297, August 1967) referring to Galadriel and her belief that her exile was perennial: "Hence she concludes with a wish or prayer that Frodo may as a special grace be granted a purgatorial (but not penal) sojourn in Eressëa, the Solitary Isle in sight of Aman, though the way for her is closed." This is interesting, because Galadriel's words are "Nai hiruvalye Valimar", 'May it be that thou shalt find Valimar.' Were it not for this text from the letter, I would have (and generally have) taken this as evidence that Frodo's destination was Valimar. Apparently being within sight of Valimar is sufficient to 'find' it. In any case, I can find no hint that Frodo was forbidden from passing (physically) beyond Tol Eressëa.


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Q: In RotK, Tolkien describes Elladan and Elrohir, sons of Elrond, as having stars on their brows (p. 138). I thought the fact that Aragorn was seen with a "star on his brow" had something to do with the Elessar. Is it instead some sort of connection to Eärendil and the Silmaril he bore? But how does that work?

– Joe W.

A: The star on Aragorn's brow is, as the text says, the Star of Elendil, also known as the Elendilmir. Its history is described in some detail in Unfinished Tales in the chapter 'The Disaster of the Gladden Fields.' It was an heirloom of the North-Kingdom and the symbol of the kingship of Arnor. Tom Bombadil foreshadows Aragorn's appearance when he tells the hobbits about the wars with Angmar: 'as he spoke they had a vision as it were of a great expanse of years behind them, like a vast shadowy plain over which there strode shapes of Men, tall and grim with bright swords, and last came one with a star on his brow."

The Elessar is a different stone entirely; a green stone mounted in an eagle brooch, given by Galadriel as a bridal token to Aragorn on behalf of her granddaughter Arwen (roughly corresponding to the 'evenstar' jewelry that Liv Tyler gives Viggo Mortensen in the movies).

The significance of apparently similar adornments for Elladan and Elrohir is not explained -- given that they are riding with the Dúnedain (the only Elves in the company), one may conjecture that these are some kind of lesser stones that may signify a high position subordinate to Aragorn's command of the Northmen (it is to be noted that the sons of Elrond remained after Elrond left, and may eventually have decided themselves to share the fate of Aragorn and the Rangers). On the other hand, when Arwen appears for her wedding, Frodo sees her with 'stars upon her brow', evidently the same tressure [and he does mean 'tressure!' - Wee] of gems that she wore in Rivendell: "Above her brow her head was covered with a cap of silver lace netted with small gems, glittering white" -- so this all may be nothing more than the custom, or prerogative, of Elrond's house to wear such gems.

For another, mostly unrelated, instance of the same image in Tolkien's writing, see "Smith of Wooton Major". The image of a man with 'a star on his brow' was evidently something that stirred Tolkien's imagination especially.


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Q: There are a few things about Boromir's journey to Rivendell that don't make sense to me: 1) Why didn't anyone in Gondor know where Rivendell/Imladris was? Didn't they have maps in their archives? 2) Why did Boromir's journey take so long? At one point Aragorn says that it would take him 12 days to walk from Weathertop to Rivendell, a distance of about 214 miles, which averages out to 18 miles a day. Boromir takes 110 days to travel from Minas Tirith to Rivendell, a distance of about 1275 miles, averaging 12 miles a day. He traveled on horseback for the first 705 miles, as far as Tharbad, so the daily average distance for the second part of the journey must have been much slower. Admittedly Aragorn was used to walking long distances, had less to carry and knew where he was going, but it still seems odd. 3) Why did Boromir lose his horse at Tharbad when Gandalf and all nine Black Riders seem not to have had any trouble? The horse returned to Rohan, so it wasn't killed. Looking forward to hearing from you,

– Emerwen Aranel

A: We must remember that the location of Rivendell was kept very secret. The Enemy would never easily find it; and also it was difficult for allies and friends to locate unless they had specific knowledge of its whereabouts. In The Hobbit, Tolkien states: "it was not so easy as it sounds to find the Last Homely House west of the Mountains." I am surprised that Boromir managed to find Rivendell at all. However, it's very likely that Elven scouts found Boromir wandering around, and thus led him into the valley after learning his identity. As for why it took so long for Boromir to get there? Well, it seems he just took his time -- unlike Strider and the Hobbits, he was not forced to travel swiftly across the land with the Enemy chasing after him. Boromir had never traveled north of Rohan; and knowing absolute zero about the lands beyond, he would necessarily have to be slow and careful. The loss of his horse cannot be explained with any supportive information from Tolkien's text. I only assume that the fording of the Greyflood was a treacherous business for those less skilled on horseback than Gandalf and the Nazgûl.


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Q: How in the world did the Hobbits surmise that Lotho was mixed in with the trouble in the Shire? Was he a troublemaker even before they left the Shire? And was the reason Frodo guessed Lotho was the 'Chief' because they said the Chief's orders came from Bag End? Or was there something I missed or didn't make it to the final publication?

– Griddy

A: Turns out the answer is made plain in the first two pages of "The Scouring of the Shire." "I'm sorry, Master Merry, but we have orders." "Whose orders?" "The Chief's up at Bag End." "Chief? Chief? Do you mean Mr. Lotho?" said Frodo. "I suppose so, Mr. Baggins; but we have to say just 'the Chief' nowadays." A) When Frodo and company left the Shire, Lotho was living in Bag End. B) The first thing they would assume, when told there is a Chief at Bag End, is that it is Lotho unless they are told otherwise. C) The gate hobbit confirms this.


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Q: My question is about the nature of Mount Doom. In two situations we see characters having the chance to destroy the Ring, but unable to do so over its influence. Isildur in the Second Age, and Frodo in the Third. From reading Unfinished Tales, I learned that Isildur had had second thoughts about the Ring, and was going to take it to Elrond in Rivendell to discuss what to do about it. It would therefore be reasonable to say that he wasn't very consumed at all by the Ring, much less than he was in the chambers of Mount Doom. So, do you think it is possible that Mount Doom has an effect on the Ring and how powerful it is? It seems that both Frodo and Isildur were more easily corrupted in this setting, so what do you think?

– Dustin Bell

A: There is an ongoing question on whether or not Isildur actually went up to the Sammath Naur, as we see in the Fellowship movie. I see no proof that he ever was there, in that exact physical spot where the Ring could be unmade. Frodo certainly reached his destination, but Isildur may not have ever been "led there" by Elrond. Sauron made his last stand down on the slopes of Mount Doom, and was "overthrown," as Tolkien says. We must again separate film events from textual facts. But still, it seems that Orodruin, the Mountain of Fire, was of critical importance to Sauron and was indeed part of his "power exchange" with the Ring. I believe the volcano held a frightening power, yet Sauron knew he could master it; for he was originally of the Maiar of Aulë, and therefore the great works sprung from molten earth and the forging of items was already very familiar to Sauron, and his skill was innate. In the case of the One Ring, Sauron harnessed the power of Orodruin and combined it with his own blood and malicious will. So, yes, there is a direct relation between how strongly the Ring emits power and how close it is to its own "source." The closer you get to that organic place of the Ring's creation, the greater the magnification of its power.


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Q: At the council of Elrond, when Aragorn is speaking of the secret and thankless watch the Rangers keep on the Shire and other Northern regions, he says, "Strider I am to one fat man who lives within a day's march of foes that would freeze his heart, or lay his little town in ruin, if it were not guarded ceaselessly." I have always wondered which 'foes' specifically he is speaking of? I can't seem to think of any heart-freezing foes that lie within a day's march of Bree and would destroy it, aside from the Barrow-wights, but I was always under the impression that they could not or would not leave the Downs. If you could offer some explanation as to who exactly these foes might be, I'd be greatly appreciative.

– Jeff S.

A: I don't assume the wild lands of the North (which were once part of Arnor) were safe and comfy just because they were "mostly empty." We can find several instances of dangers and evil creatures causing problems in the northern stretches of Eriador. During the Fell Winter of T.A. 2911 the terrifying White Wolves came down from the North and attacked everyone, including the Hobbits. There were Stone-trolls and Hill-trolls occasionally, looting and pillaging across the land. You know there could be Orcs too. Let us not forget the evil power of the Witch-king, for although the power of Angmar in the north was at its height many centuries before the War of the Ring, there was still some remnant of his malevolence lingering about the lands (Treebeard makes a sly reference to it). Considering that the Rangers knew more than anyone about such wandering creatures and evils, and had to deal with them at a great price, it seems reasonable for Aragorn to complain about Barliman's complacency.


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Q: In the chapter "Many Meetings," I think, it says Frodo awoke in Elrond's house and found that the Ring had been put on a new chain that was strong yet light. I was wondering who put the chain on it? Someone would have had to touch the Ring to put the new chain on. What was stopping them from taking the Ring then and there and claiming it for themselves? Even if it were Gandalf or Elrond that rechained the Ring the temptation would still be pretty strong.

– Alexander Smith

A: An excellent question, given the dangerous and highly addictive nature of the Ring. Unfortunately, Tolkien doesn't say. The only thing we can surmise for certain is that it was not Gandalf. He made it clear on more than one occasion that the temptation of the Ring was too great for his strength. Who then? Elrond? The example of Galadriel shows us that even the highest Elves are not immune to the Ring's lure either. Some of my fellow staff members suggested Sam, but I find that difficult as well. Sam, at this stage of the game, would have been too timid to meddle with the Ring, I think. Perhaps this is a case of a minor detail being taken too seriously, certainly far more seriously than Tolkien did. Yes, it can be seen as a weak link, but I'm inclined to overlook it … especially since, if you're careful, you can thread a chain through a ring without actually having to touch the ring itself. Try it sometime. : )


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Q: After seeing The Two Towers movie my sister asked me, "Why is the Forbidden Pool forbidden?" I was quite chagrined to realize that after decades of reading the books, I didn't have a clue. Even more chagrined to realize I'd never even questioned it… At any rate, do any of you know just why? Was it once visited by the Valar? Was there an endangered species of fish swimming in it?

– Nancy

A: There is a very simple explanation: the water basin below Henneth Annûn was part of the secret refuge controlled by the Gondorians. It was not a "forbidden pool" because of any properties of the water itself. Rather, it was a secret military installation and the entire location, cave, waterfalls, paths, and pool, was secret. To keep it secret from any and all, a law was written to kill any trespassers who discovered the place without being bidden there by representatives of Gondor. That was the law, plain and simple. According to this strict system, there was no other 100% failsafe measure to keep the location of Henneth Annûn a secret. It is all the more remarkable that Faramir chose to circumvent the law in the instance of Gollum's capture; even though Gollum clearly knew nothing about the military use of the locale.


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Q: This idea has haunted me for quite some time now, and others have confronted me with it as well. I have tried to defend the honor of LotR, but I have failed to see any explanation for my idea. Why did Frodo not simply dispose of the Ring in Moria? He could have cast it down into the great fires (lava/magma) of the great abyss of Moria, and surely not even the most elite of Sauron's forces would ever be able to retrieve it, would they?

– Dan

A: A similar question was asked in the Council of Elrond about casting the Ring into the ocean. "In the Sea it would be safe," [said Glorfindel.] "Not safe forever," said Gandalf. "There are many things in the deep waters; and seas and lands may change. And it is not our part here to take thought only for a season, or for a few lives of Men, or for a passing age of the world. We should seek a final end of this menace, even if we do not hope to make one."

The same answer can be applied to the pits of Moria. Mountains crack, valleys are upraised, underground rivers change their course, lava dries up and cracks open, revealing fossilized secrets … and "there are many things in the deeps." Gandalf's objective, and the Council's, was to destroy, not hide, and the fires of Moria would not have done the trick.


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Q: My question is, when fighting the Balrog in Moria, why didn't Gandalf use Narya, the Ring of Fire that he possessed? Even though he was always reluctant to use it, surely he would have used it to keep himself alive knowing that the Fellowship would almost have been doomed without him. Is it that Narya doesn't have this kind of power, or is it that maybe Gandalf had foreseen his battle with an ancient evil that would test his will and lead to a sort of resurrection for him as Gandulf the White?

– Thomas M. Tomasiak

A: How do we know he did not use it? It must have taken very great fortitude to survive the fall, much less the battle. I have speculated elsewhere about the nature of Gandalf's mortal body, and the fact that it survived as long as it did takes a lot of explaining. The purpose of the Ring of Fire was to "rekindle hearts in a world that grows chill." Perhaps that could be extended to include injecting extra motivation, determination, will, and power into a battle of an already great heart and spirit? I would be very surprised if he didn't use all the power at his disposal in this battle, certainly including the ring, but not even Elven rings are omnipotent and it was, clearly, no guarantor of saving his life.


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Questions 07/03
Quick navigation for questions asked this month.
 • Are Sauron and Gandalf equal as Maiar?
 • Did Frodo arrive on Tol Eressea?
 • Do all Elves have stars on their brows?
 • How did Boromir journey to Rivendell?
 • How do they know about Lotho?
 • Tell us the nature of Mount Doom.
 • What evil foes could attack Bree?
 • Who rechained the Ring?
 • Why is the Pool 'forbidden'?
 • Why not destroy the Ring in Moria?
 • Why not use Narya against the Balrog?


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