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Q: During The Lord of the Rings, the Valar had forbidden themselves from directly working in Middle-earth. But someone was indirectly influencing the situation, overtly (sending the Istari) and covertly (dreams, visions). Or even causing Bilbo to find the Ring in The Hobbit. Is there any evidence of who was doing this? Any theories?

–Scott Hanna

A: Unfinished Tales tells us that the Istari were sent by the Valar, "with the consent of Eru," the One, or the personage we would call God. As for dreams and visions and Bilbo finding the Ring, Gandalf did tell Frodo that Bilbo "was meant to find it," and in that case he also was "meant to have it. And that may be an encouraging thought." I’ve speculated on the fate/intention aspect of things in one of my Counterpoints, but the fact is that Tolkien leaves it up to our interpretation. Indirect intervention on the part of Eru or Ilúvatar? Fate? Chance? We really don’t know. But given Tolkien’s religious tendencies and the fact that he portrayed a God figure, I think it’s safe to speculate that he intended us to form a link between some of the more mystical interventions and Eru.


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Q: What do you know of the Wainriders that assaulted Gondor in the Third Age? First of all, why did they attack Gondor at all, and where did they come from? The East? Appendix B "The Third Age" in LOTR contains this: "1851 The attack of the Wainriders upon Gondor begins" and "1899 Calimehtar defeats the Wainriders on Dagorlad." What do you make of it?


A: Wainriders is just a term for a group of Easterlings, a confederation of them actually, that threatened and attacked Gondor during the Third Age. I understand Gondor was going through a tough patch when the Wainriders first appeared, as the country was slow to recover from the devastation of the Great Plague two centuries earlier in T.A. 1636-37. Gondor was not in a good position to defend herself against them. In Foster’s Complete Guide to Middle-earth we learn: "the Wainriders were so called because they traveled in large wagons. Their chieftains fought in chariots...." Thus the word "wain" refers to their great wagons. The evidence is clear that Sauron was pulling a lot of strings here: sending emissaries to stir up the Easterlings and encouraging them to fight Gondor (which made it easier for him certainly). I feel that the Wainriders were critical in destabilizing the power of the Line of Kings; and their military actions set forth a sequence of events that unfortunately collapsed the Line of Anárion, leaving Gondor without a King. I’m sure Sauron was very pleased to sit back and watch all this happen.

You will find much more about Wainriders in Unfinished Tales: in the section "Cirion and Eorl and the Friendship of Gondor and Rohan." Also check out detailed maps of the battles against them in The Atlas of Middle-earth.


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Q: Dear Green Books Staff, my question is "Suppose I had the Ring." If I claimed it and challenged Sauron for possession of it; and cast him down and destroyed him, would the Ring now answer to me, or would it remain without a master or would it be masterless without the one who made it. This has been on my mind for a while now.


A: An interesting speculation. If you claimed the Ring and stepped up to bat against Sauron himself you would have a very difficult time of it, I’d warrant. This is what Tolkien says in Letters, in his most famous Letter No. 131 to Milton Waldman:

But even if [Sauron] did not wear [the Ring], that power existed and was in ‘rapport’ with himself: he was not ‘diminished.’ Unless some other seized it and became possessed of it. If that happened, the new possessor could (if sufficiently strong and heroic by nature) challenge Sauron, become master of all that he had learned or done since the making of the One Ring, and so overthrow him and usurp his place.

That means if (a mighty big "if") you were strong enough to usurp Sauron then YOU would become the new Dark Lord.... and YOU would absorb and learn all the will of Sauron contained in the Ring.... and that YOU would be, by extension, the new manifestation of Sauron! In such a case, Sauron would be gone, but his will would carry on within you, wielder of the Ring. You would be corrupted into something wholly evil by osmosis. Tolkien says that "anyone who used it became mastered by it," suggesting that the Ring would do everything to get itself back to its Master, as I have said before. In this scenario of "what if I successfully claimed the Ring," I would say at the end of the day the Ring had successfully claimed you! You cannot say it would "answer to you," but rather you would be unified with it.... and subsequently you would spend the rest of your days seeking to rule all the other Rings and races of Middle-earth just like a Dark Lord should.


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Q: Just before "The Scouring Of The Shire," Gandalf warns the hobbits of Saruman's influence in the Shire, so he was obviously aware of it. I understand that it was no longer Gandalf's job in Middle-earth to straighten things out but as a friend to the hobbits he could have warned them earlier. He let the hobbits stay in Rivendell for quite a long time (months?) before they set off for the Shire. Had Gandalf warned them the returning four hobbits could have arrived months earlier and prevented the imprisonment and death of many hobbits – before Saruman and his men had such a strong hold. I don't see why Gandalf would allow hobbits to die just so our heroes could prove to themselves they have grown up and can handle their own troubles.


A: Maybe Gandalf had a foresight, but don’t assume he knew all of what might happen. When you say it like that, you make Gandalf responsible for sending the hobbits into danger and death. Not so! Following your line of thought you absolve Saruman of what he was doing in the Shire. He was the one imprisoning and killing hobbits! Saruman was responsible for his evil deeds yet you wish to put the onus on Gandalf to have interfered with a chain of events that Tolkien considered a necessity.

Yes, there are many actions and reactions in LOTR that Tolkien considered were "bound up with the ‘mythology’ of the ‘angelic’ Powers of the world of this fable." According to the author it was actually necessary for Gandalf to die when he did, earlier in the story. He was an angelic being, incarnate in a physical form; and was sacrificed for the cause, as it were, as a counter to Saruman who had failed completely as an Istari. The Professor has much to say about this in Letters Nos. 156 and 181. Gandalf’s death was necessary for Tolkien’s greater thematic construct, and here he explains that it was demanded by the fall of Saruman:

....these ‘wizards’ were incarnated in the life-forms of Middle-earth, and so suffered the pains both of mind and body. They were also, for the same reason, thus involved in the peril of the incarnate: the possibility of ‘fall,’ of sin, if you will. The chief form this would take with them would be impatience, leading to the desire to force others to their own good ends, and so inevitably at last to mere desire to make their own wills effective by any means. To this evil Saruman succumbed. Gandalf did not. But the situation became so much the worse by the fall of Saruman, that the ‘good’ were obliged to greater effort and sacrifice.

Tolkien says that some sacrifice of good must be made to counter the crisis of evil. The Scouring of the Shire was the time for Hobbits to make "greater effort and sacrifice." Gandalf warning the hobbits about it and ushering them through the crisis would have polluted the whole point. He had already died and come back, what more could you ask of him? These closing chapters at the end of The Lord of the Rings form an unusually long dénouement for a book. But you cannot misjudge their thematic importance. As I have said before, "The hobbits’ peace is shattered by an encroaching world they can no longer ignore," and Tolkien believes that standing up against the evils of the world will never be easy.


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Q: Hi! First of all, this is a great site! My question is, besides the Grey Havens, what is outside of Middle-earth?


A: Actually, the Grey Havens were located within the realm of Middle-earth, not outside – the harbor city of Círdan was located on the Gulf of Lhûn. From there the Elves would sail on their ships to Valinor, which was beyond the circles of the world at the time of LOTR. There are some difficult concepts that come up when discussing the entire geography of the "rest of the world." Originally, Tolkien envisioned a flat world during the First Age, then it was made round (or bent) during the cataclysmic events of the Second Age and the Downfall of Númenor.

But if you just want to know about what was beyond Middle-earth itself, well, Tolkien does not give us very much detail. Of course, he named the entire planet of his mythologies "Arda," and he would give Arda a unique genesis in the earliest tales of The Silmarillion. In The Sil, you will learn that the Undying Lands (Valinor) are a reference to the protected continent of Aman. During the First Age, this continent was across the Great Sea, west of Middle-earth. Other continents were suggested by Tolkien: far to the south of Umbar and the Far Harad (which you can see on most maps) was the continent called the Hither Lands, and a great body of water, "The Inner Seas." Beyond that lie another land mass called the "Dark Land." Nothing is known really about who or what lived in these far off places. To the east of Middle-earth was the vast area of Rhûn, where the many nations of the Easterlings dwelt. When Númenor was sunk during the Second Age, all of Arda was changed and the great western continent of Aman was removed completely from the physical world. It was from the beginning an ethereal land, but afterwards could only be reached by Elves who could sail "The Straight Road" from the physical world to the "secondary world." So much more fantastic detail is revealed in Karen Wynn Fonstad’s Atlas of Middle-earth, so run out and get yourself a copy.


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Q: How old was Dior when he got whacked in Menegroth? If Beren and Húrin were contemporaries, the Turin and Tuor and Dior would be around the same age. If Doriath fell before Gondolin, then Dior would have to be pretty young, right? If it takes 50 or 100 years for an Elf to reach maturity, wouldn't Dior be a really young pup amongst the Elves? Or did his half-human side speed up his maturing process while at the same time granting him immortality as an Elf? Any speculation would be helpful, and also, is there a timeline for the First Age akin to the timelines for the Second and Thirds age found in LOTR?


A: In "The War of the Jewels" (History of Middle-earth Volume XI) are found two primary (though in some places contradictory and roughly sketched) sources for the chronology of Beleriand: the Grey Annals (which Christopher Tolkien used extensively for the narrative in The Silmarillion) and the much more perfunctory Tale of Years. The Grey Annals state that Dior Thingol’s heir was born in the year 470; Túrin was born in 464; and Tuor in 472. The Grey Annals were only completed to about the year 50s, but the Tale of Years covers the remainder of the First Age in summary. Christopher says that The Tale of Years agrees with the Grey Annals in the chronology prior to 500, and does not reproduce it. The final version of the Tale of Years lists the death of Dior as Yule, 506-507, so, age 36. A bit of a "young pup" for an Elf, but he was, after all, half Elven (and his Elvish mother had abandoned her immortality), so we may suppose that he was in "full manhood" by then, and even in 503, when he went to Doriath to attempt to reestablish the realm.

Tuor wed Idril in 502, age 30 and departed in 525 "and is heard of in no tale since." Túrin died in 499 (age 35).


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Q: About the Eye of Sauron: is there anywhere in the history of Sauron that tells of him losing one of his eyes, hence the singular "eye" of Sauron?


A: Ostadan already wrote of this in a previous Q&A article. During the War of the Ring, Sauron definitely was humanoid in form; but of course he was unable to take a fair seeming form. Yes he had both of his eyes. Imagine him being horrible, demonic, or whatever your fancy tells you. Tolkien tells us that Sauron’s shape was "terrible" and we know Gollum had seen the Dark Lord himself, reporting to Frodo and Sam that "He has only four [fingers] on the Black Hand, but they are enough."

Most people misunderstand the term "Eye of Sauron" thinking it was Sauron’s only real physical manifestation. It was simply a term given during the Third Age because he WATCHED everything, everywhere, all the time. "The Eye" is an allusion to Sauron’s never-ending watchfulness. Tolkien tells us explicitly the Dark Lord was humanoid, but that is not enough to settle the matter. How to explain Frodo’s vision in the Mirror of Galadriel? This vision of the Eye appeared rimmed with fire, glazed like a cat’s eye, and its pupil was a slit that "opened on a pit, a window into nothing." But I say the Dark Lord was projecting an image of himself; and he seemed to prefer a frightening, Lidless Eye. Maybe that’s all you could see of his form when using means like the Mirror or the Palantíri (indeed maybe that’s all Sauron would let you see of him, where he controlled how he was perceived). So what if Sauron was humanoid? That does not mean he was limited to being so. He had a rich history of taking many shapes including serpent, wolf-shape, and even the beautiful form of Annatar.


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Q: What does the dream that Frodo has when he spends the night at Farmer Maggot’s house mean?


A: Since Frodo didn’t spend the night at Farmer Maggot’s (only had dinner with him), I must assume you mean Tom Bombadil’s house.

The first night he was there, Frodo dreamed he saw "a circle of hills, and that within it was a plain, and in the midst of the plain stood a pinnacle of stone, like a vast tower but not made by hands. On its top stood the figure of a man. The moon as it rose seemed to hang for a moment above his head and glistened in his white hair as the wind stirred it.... A mighty eagle swept down and bore him away." It goes on and Frodo hears hoofbeats.

It seems plain that this is a dream of Gandalf trapped on the pinnacle of Orthanc. Later, at the Council of Elrond, when Gandalf explains what happened to him, Frodo exclaims, "I saw you! You were walking backwards and forwards. The moon shone in your hair."

The second night, Frodo dreamed of sweet singing: "a song that seemed to come like a pale light behind a grey rain-curtain, and growing stronger to turn the veil all to glass and silver, until at last it was rolled back, and a far green country opened before him under a swift sunrise. The vision melted into waking; and there was Tom whistling like a tree-full of birds; and the sun was already slanting down the hill and through the open window. Outside everything was green and pale gold."

So it seems clear at first that this second dream was simply his mind taking subconscious images of the sun rising and Tom whistling or singing – and perhaps a connection between those two events. But at the end of Return of the King, as the ship bears Frodo to the Blessed Realm, he experiences the dream in waking life – the rain is turned to silver glass and rolled back, and he beholds a far green country under a swift sunrise. So the dream may also be a premonition of what is to come.


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Q: Is it possible that Shadowfax was actually one of the Valar taking horse form in Middle-earth? I know that the Valar were capable of this. Shadowfax is as out of place in Middle-earth as Tom Bombadil. Any thoughts?

–Scott Hanna

A: Unfinished Tales has this to say of Shadowfax and the line of horses whence he sprang: "Felaróf was Eorl’s horse. In Appendix A (II) to The Lord of the Rings it is told that Eorl’s father Léod, who was a tamer of wild horses, was thrown by Felaróf when he dared to mount him, and so he met his death. Afterwards Eorl demanded of the horse that he surrender his freedom till his life’s end in wergild for his father; and Felaróf submitted, though he would allow no man but Eorl to mount him. He understood all that men said, and was as long-lived as they, as were his descendents, and mearas, "who would bear no one but the King of the Mark or his sons, until the time of Shadowfax."

I think it’s easier to infer from this reference that Shadowfax and his ancestors were simply a remarkable line of reasoning, very powerful horses, much more in the nature of the Great Eagles than of the Valar incarnate. Something similar, also, to the shapechanging line of Beorn who were reasoning, powerful bears when they changed. One presumes there were both normal bears and normal eagles in Middle-earth, and so it is not too much of a stretch to say that Shadowfax and his kin were as much different from normal horses as the Great Eagles were from ordinary ones–and that makes them very much a part of Middle-earth and not out of place at all.


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Q: Hi! I've been wondering, how do the Elves of Mirkwood keep their land (no matter how small it is) peaceful? In The Hobbit, they seem cautious, but they still are going hunting and having parties. So there must be something keeping evil away, especially with how Mirkwood was at the time. And we know that Thranduil didn't have a ring of power.

–Meia, an Elf

A: It seems clear that they had the capacity to put a "magical confusion" on intruders who showed up at their outdoor hunting and feasting. The Dwarves fell over asleep and Bilbo found himself running in circles. So while they went out in the open, they apparently had pretty good defenses, and one presumes that if Bilbo could hold off the giant spiders with only Sting, that the Wood-elves could have put up more formidable battle if necessary. While it’s true that southern Mirkwood was clouded by Dol Guldur and Thranduil did not hold a Ring of Power, I think it’s safe to say that Sauron A) did not feel the need yet to wipe out a relatively small and insignificant colony of Wood-elves and B) was still consolidating his power, and was driven out to Mordor before he could turn his thoughts to Thranduil.


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Q: Something has really been bugging me! In The Return of the King, when Galadriel is offering a last chance to Saruman and Wormtongue, why does Saruman say all of that stuff about Galadriel's ship being full of ghosts? Did she ever really make it to the Havens? Thanks!


A: I think it’s quite safe to say that Galadriel’s boat did make it safely to the Blessed Realm (they left FROM the Havens, so there was no question of the boat going TO the Havens). The last we see of Frodo, it is on the ship. "And the ship went out into the High Sea and passed on into the West, until at last on a night of rain Frodo smelled a sweet fragrance on the air and heard the sound of singing that came over the water. And then it seemed to him that as in his dream in the house of Bombadil, the grey rain-curtain turned all to silver glass and was rolled back, and he beheld white shores and beyond them a far green country under a swift sunrise." This is Frodo’s first glimpse of the Blessed Realm, so safe landing is almost a guarantee.

As far as Saruman’s comment, I believe it was simply an ordinary, if telling, insult, a reference to the fact that Elves are diminishing in Middle-earth and that the realm of Men is at hand. He’s implying that because she and her kin will no longer be powerful in Middle-earth, that they will be little better than ghosts limping back to the shadow world. I’m sure Galadriel was wise enough to realize the untruth in his envious, bitter words and to let them slide off.


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Q: Do only Legolas's type of Elves, the Mirkwood ones, have heightened senses? I ask because even after Elladan and Elrohir have joined Aragorn and the army that is moving toward Gondor, when the Nazgûl are high overheard, it still refers to them as unseen except for Legolas. Is this just a Tolkien oversight (God forbid!)?


A: I think it’s more likely that it goes to the perspective of who is telling the story. Remember, the story is told from the point of view of the Hobbits, always, whether they be Sam, Frodo, Merry, or Pippin. In the army going to Mordor, Pippin was the Hobbit in question, and Pippin would be most likely to be found in the company of Legolas, not of Elladan and Elrohir. So it’s possible that the sons of Elrond could have seen the flying Naz as well even though the phrasing is "out of sight of all save Legolas." It may have been referring to the group Pippin was in–like if you were in a specified company in an army, and you were telling the tale, you might say something was out of sight of all except the most farsighted person in your group, even though there might be others in the army at large who could see it.

On the other hand, Wood-elves would certainly have more need of sharper eyes than those of Rivendell, and it is certainly possible that Legolas’s eyes were honed from much hunting and tracking in the dim depths of the wood. I wouldn’t put it past him to be superior in this respect to even Elladan and Elrohir. We’re not really told.


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Q: I have already looked over the Baggins family tree in The Return of the King. But I still don't understand how Frodo and Bilbo are related. And I've also caught wind that Frodo is related to Merry and Pippin too. How is that possible?


A: I don't think we've covered this, and I have only recently realized that most people do not share the Hobbit passion (shared by JRRT and to some degree by myself) for figuring out just what "third cousin twice removed" and all that actually maps to in terms of genealogy.

But the relation between Bilbo and Frodo is pretty straightforward, and explained by the Gaffer in the Ivy Bush: "Mr. Drogo, he married poor Miss Primula Brandybuck. She was our Mr. Bilbo's first cousin on the mother's side (her mother being the youngest of the Old Took's daughters); and Mr. Drogo was his second cousin. So Mr. Frodo is his first and second cousin, once removed either way, as the saying is, if you follow me."

Now, that's clear, isn't it? On the Baggins tree, we see that Mungo and Largo were brothers; their sons Bungo and Fosco were thus first cousins to each other; and their sons Bilbo and Drogo were therefore second cousins to one another–second cousins are the children of first cousins, and are always of the same generation. The son of a second

cousin is a second cousin "once removed", i.e., one generation different.

On the Took tree, we see that Bilbo's mother, Belladonna Took, was Mirabella's sister, as the Gaffer said, and so Bilbo and Mirabella's daughter Primula (Frodo's mother) were first cousins; again, the child of your first cousin is your first cousin once removed. So that's what the Gaffer meant by Bilbo and Frodo being first and second cousins, once removed either way.

Now the fun stuff. Hang on.

On the Took tree, we see that Mirabella (and Belladonna) had a brother Hildigrim, so Primula was the first cousin of his son Adalgrim; and so Frodo was the second cousin of Adalgrim's son Paladin (on his mother's side). So Frodo and Paladin's son Peregrin (Pippin) are Second Cousins, once removed. But since Hildigrim married Rosa Baggins, Frodo's great-grandfather's niece, Frodo is also Pippin's (hm, hm, calculate)

third cousin, once removed (on his father's side). So Frodo and Pippin are second and third cousins, once removed either way.

On the Brandybuck tree, Primula's brother Rorimac (Old Rory) had a son Saradoc, who was Frodo's first cousin; his son Meriadoc (Merry) is thus Frodo's first cousin once removed. But wait! Note also that Meriadoc's mother is Esmeralda Took, Paladin's sister (and so Esmeralda is Frodo's second (and third) cousin, like Paladin). Merry and Pippin are first cousins; but this also makes Merry Frodo's second (and third!) cousin, once removed. So, Merry and Frodo are first and second and third cousins, once removed no matter how you slice 'em (as the saying goes, if you follow me).

Now, what could be simpler than that??


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Q: Greetings Masters and Mistresses of Lore! Throughout The Lord of the Rings,, many of the free peoples of Middle-earth refer to "the Shadow" as a synonym of the great evil threat of Mordor. Nowhere in the epic is the word "shadow" used to mean something good. The only exception, of course, is Gandalf's glorious steed, Shadowfax. I always thought that in Tolkien's mythology Shadowfax might mean something like "shadow-less" (as in, "without a shadow"–a testament perhaps to his speed). In any of his books, did Tolkien ever give an indication of his meaning of the suffix "fax" and how it pertained to the horse?

–Richard, who would love a quaff of Entwash

A: In his Notes on Nomenclature, a guide intended for translators of Lord of the Rings (sometimes called the Guide to Names), published in A Tolkien Compass, Tolkien wrote:

"Shadowfax. This is an anglicized form of Rohan (that is Old English) Sceadu-faex 'having shadow-grey mane (and coat)'. It does not actually occur in Old English. Since it is not Common Speech, it may be retained [in translation], though better so in a simplified form of the Rohan name: Scadufax. ... Fax 'hair' is now obsolete in English,

except in the name Fairfax (no longer understood). ...


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Q: When the hobbits first meet elves in FOTR, they meet a band of elves heading west. Their leader says his name is Gildor Inglorion of the House of Finrod. Who is he and does he play any significance in the history of the Eldar?


A: First, the text should probably read "the House of Finarfin" – JRRT changed the names around, and while a reference to "Finrod" in the appendix on languages was changed to refer to Finarfin in the 1966 revision, the corresponding mention by Gildor was evidently overlooked. In any case, his purpose seems to be to be a Generic Noldo in this scene, and he is not mentioned in other works (Barahir has a human companion of the same name in the later Quenta Silmarillion, but they are unrelated).

It is not clear whether "House of Finrod" (or Finarfin) necessarily refers to Gildor's family tree, or merely to his "household."


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Q: We all know that Tolkien’s world is our own in the distant past. If this is true, then is there any indication of how long ago it was? What Age could we be in?

–Colin Mitchell


Q: I just have this one question: is our Earth a future form of Middle-earth? If yes, then what Age are we in now?


A: Tolkien states: "Mine is not an 'imaginary' world, but an imaginary historical moment on 'Middle-earth' – which is our habitation" (Letters No.183, a commentary on Auden's review). Tolkien's Middle-earth is our world, at an earlier period of history, but in an imaginary time. This is similar to the world of Homer's Odyssey, which is our world at an earlier period, but one in which the Mediterranean Sea contained islands inhabited by Cyclops, Sirens, Circe, Lotus-eaters, and other imaginary denizens.

As to what age we are in, Tolkien wrote in another letter (No. 211, to Rhona Beare), regarding the very question of how LotR relates to "history:"

....I hope the, evidently long but undefined, gap* in time between the Fall of Barad-dûr and our Days is sufficient for 'literary credibility', even for readers acquainted with what is known or surmised of 'pre-history'. I have, I suppose, constructed an imaginary time, but kept my feet on my own mother-earth for place.

*I imagine the gap to be about 6000 years: that is we are now at the end of the Fifth Age, if the Ages were of about the same length as S[econd].A[ge]. and T.A. But they have, I think, quickened; and I imagine we are actually at the end of the Sixth Age, or in the Seventh.


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Q: There are orcs in almost every fantasy universe, but was it Tolkien who invented them? There must be almost similar creatures in pre-Tolkien literature (goblins?), but did he make them the way we see them nowadays? Especially, did he invent the word "orc?"

–Jussi Lehtiniemi

A: In Tolkien's notes on nomenclature in LotR (sometimes called the Guide to Names), he wrote that he "originally took the word from Old English orc (Beowulf 112 orc-nass and the gloss orc = thyrs ('ogre'), heldeofol ('hell-devil'). Of course he did not invent the idea of horrifying goblin creatures, and the image of hordes of monstrous soldiers is reminiscent of the troops of the pagan foe in the Song of Roland, just as one example. However, the _role_ played by the Orcs – creatures bred in incredible numbers by a demiurgic Dark Lord – seems to be original to Tolkien.

As the question indicates, the influence of Tolkien's work on later fantasy (aided and abetted, I think, by Dungeons and Dragons) is profound. Even scholarly works such as Barbara Reynolds's translation of Orlando Furioso (Penguin, 1975) can be found using "Orc" as a handy and easily understood translation for a monstrous creature, which would not have been the case 30 years earlier.


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Q: I have a question regarding Finrod. I thought all the Noldor who went back to Middle-earth were under the Doom of Mandos. Or is it just the House of Fëanor? If it is all the Noldor, then why does it say in The Silmarillion, after Finrod is slain, "But Finrod walks with Finarfin his father beneath the trees in Eldamar?" I thought he would then go to the Halls of Mandos. I would appreciate your take on this. Thanks.


A: In the tale Of the Beginning of Days in the published Silmarillion, we are told (of the Elves) that "dying they are gathered to the halls of Mandos in Valinor, whence they may in time return." It is notable that the Halls of Mandos are also called the "Halls of Waiting" throughout the mythology. In the essay on the Laws and Customs Among the Eldar (late 1950s, found in History of Middle-earth Volume X, "Morgoth's Ring"), he elaborated on this point, making the time of Waiting a purgatory and healing period for the 'fea' (spirit) in which "they were corrected, instructed, strengthened, or comforted, according to their needs or deserts. If they would consent to this." At this time, he felt that the spirits released from Mandos were re-incarnated as newborn Elvish infants. Later, as he considered the matter of Glorfindel's return (see "The Peoples of Middle-earth," History of Middle-earth Volume XII), he came to the conclusion that the released souls were clothed in new adult bodies based on their memory of their earlier incarnate life.


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Q: Is there an Elvish word for "greetings" or "hello"? Thanks! I love your website!!

–Paul Bernard Fertal

A: In the letter from Elessar to Samwise shown in the Epilogue to LotR (published in History of Middle-earth Volume IX [or History of LotR Volume IV], "Sauron Defeated"), we see the Sindarin word "Suilad", translated as "Greetings," and fans of Tolkien's languages use this word regularly. There is no known Quenya equivalent, aside from Frodo's well-known greeting to Gildor. But that is less a greeting than the equivalent of an Englishman saying "Enchanté de faire votre connaissance" upon meeting someone.


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Q: At what point did Tolkien think of the Necromancer as an incarnation of Sauron? Obviously when he is mentioned in the "Unexpected Party," the Necromancer is thought of as a very powerful force, incapable of being defeated even by all the Dwarves (not just the 13 of Thorin's party). This great power seems to suggest that to Tolkien's mind, while writing The Hobbit, that the Necromancer would indeed be Sauron. If this is the case I find it hard to believe that that the use of the One Ring would go undetected when it was worn extensively by Bilbo in the same forest the Necromancer occupied. Was Sauron aware of the Ring while Bilbo was in Mirkwood?

On an unrelated matter, I have this impression that somewhere in LOTR it is implied (though not stated outright) that Gandalf's encouraging the recapture of the Lonely Mountain was a piece of incredible foresight in preparation for the War of the Ring. Is this true or am I making it up? If it isn't true what explains Gandalf's involvement in what seems to be a trifling affair? Why did he choose to go for a Hobbit as the 14th party member? Do I need to chalk these up to plot devices and deus ex machina?


A: The short answer is "get a copy of The Annotated Hobbit," which has just appeared in a new edition. The long answer is, Tolkien knew that the Necromancer spoken of in the Hobbit was Sauron – but it must be remembered that LotR had not been even faintly conceived at the time, and the necromancer Sauron of whom he was speaking was the lieutenant of Morgoth who imprisoned Beren and Felagund. A nice description from the Lay of Leithian (ca 1930):

"Not yet by Men enthralled adored,
now was he Morgoth's mightiest lord,
Master of Wolves, whose shivering howl
for ever echoed in the hills, and foul
enchantments and dark sigaldry
did weave and wield. In glamoury
that necromancer held his host
of phantoms and of wandering ghosts,
of misbegotten or spell-wronged
monsters that about him thronged,
working his bidding dark and vile:
the werewolves of the Wizard's Isle."

As for reasons within the story of why Sauron did not notice Bilbo with the Ring in Mirkwood: well, Quickbeam has already answered this. I will add though that Sauron had other things on his mind, as the White Council was attacking Dol Guldur at the time. But generally, people seem to overestimate Sauron's awareness of the Ring; in the book, he is aware of it only when Frodo is on the Hill of Sight, and later when Frodo claims it on Mount Doom.

We also have other Q&A material regarding Gandalf's account of how he happened to get Bilbo involved with Thorin's quest. It was written as part of Appendix A, but omitted for space. It was published in part in Unfinished Tales; the most complete and polished draft is found in the new edition of The Annotated Hobbit. It is too long to summarize here, and much more fun to read than a summary anyway.


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Q: I'm a bit confused on what happened after Morgoth destroyed the pillars of light in Middle-earth. When the Elves lived in Middle-earth, up until the Sun and Moon (and indeed Venus/Eärendil) were made, did they just walk around in the dark (i.e., just with starlight which doesn't give them much to go by)?!

–Nigel Webb

A: Yes, the Elves walked "in twilight" under the stars they loved, at least in most versions of the mythology. As usual, this isn't quite so simple. As recounted in The History of Middle-earth Volume X, "Morgoth's Ring," JRRT grew dissatisfied with the dissonance between real world astronomy (and biology) and his myth of the Sun and Moon, and began to rework the mythology so that instead of lingering "in the twilight before the raising of the Sun and Moon" as in the first edition of The Hobbit, they "lingered in the twilight of our Sun and Moon, but loved best the stars," as in the post-1966 editions. However, he never fully rewrote those parts of The Silmarillion that hinged on this myth (he wrote, presumably with some regret, that "one loses.... the dramatic impact of such things as the first 'incarnates' waking in a starlit world – or the coming of the High Elves to Middle-earth and unfurling their banners at the first rising of the Moon.") and so Christopher Tolkien simply used the better-established version of the cosmology in the published Silmarillion.

It may be worth noting that even as late as a 1972 letter, he identified Venus with Eärendil bearing the Silmaril; perhaps he had decided, after all, that what he had called the 'astronomically absurd business of the making of the Sun and Moon' was, astronomy notwithstanding, the better story.


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Questions 09/02
Quick navigation for questions asked this month.
 • Who influenced world events?
 • Tell us of the Wainriders?
 • What if I claimed the Ring?
 • Would Gandalf prevent the Scouring of the Shire?
 • What other continents are there?
 • How old was Dior when killed?
 • Was Sauron just a floating eyeball?
 • Can you interpret Frodo's dream?
 • Was Shadowfax one of the Valar?
 • Could the Wood-Elves protect their realm?
 • Was Galadriel's ship full of ghosts?
 • Does only Legolas have heightened senses?
 • A study of hobbit genealogy?
 • The etymology of Shadowfax?
 • Who was that Gildor chap?
 • What Age are we in now?
 • Did Tolkien invent ORCS?
 • What happened to Finrod's spirit?
 • What is Elvish for 'Greetings?'
 • When did Tolkien create the Necromancer?
 • How did the Elves live in twilight?


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