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Q: In The Two Towers, ‘The Stairs of Cirith Ungol,’ when Frodo is climbing up to the pass into Mordor, he sees "Down in its depths glimmered like a glow-worm thread the wraith-road from the dead city to the Nameless Pass."

Is this the main road from Morgul to Gorgoroth? If this is true, I suppose that Frodo didn’t take this way because it starts IN Minas Morgul. But then, WHY existed a secondary and small road parallel and higher to the main road to Mordor? I mean, it has no use for the enemy or for Gondor (I suppose that Gondor built it, like the Tower of the Pass).

–Salvador Busquets

A: Yes, the Morgul-road Frodo observed was the standard avenue of travel through the mountain pass. It followed the River Morgulduin east and eventually came upon the Tower of Cirith Ungol at the top… from there going down into the Plateau of Gorgoroth. The hobbits would not take this road because it was popular with moving armies, and was certainly watched from the Tower above.

However, the smaller path along the north face (that included the Straight Stair and Winding Stair) provided just the secrecy they needed as it was never used by Orcs. It was also the ideal way for Gollum to lead the hobbits to his arachnid friend. I would assume as you have done that the Men of Gondor had built it along with their original construction of the Tower. All good fortresses have secret escape routes don’t they? In later time when the Tower fell under Sauron’s control, this path fell into disuse and was forgotten. Please refer to Fonstad’s Atlas of Middle-earth for precise drawings of the Morgul Vale.


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Q: I hate finding inconsistencies in Tolkien works, but unfortunately, I'm a nitpicker. In "Beren and Luthien," it says that Daeron goes off wandering forever, presumably. But, he appears again in "Narn i Hîn Húrin" complaining about Turin and being a friend of Saeros. Now, he could easily have been a friend of Saeros and still run off, but he can't be quoted as saying, "Is it not strange that this land should be opened to yet another of this unhappy race?" (Everyone hates a tattle-tale, but this has been bothering me for months.)


A: There are two kinds of explanations that can be applied here. One refers to the idea of canonicity–and whether we as readers can really expect the writings by Tolkien that were published after his death to be completely consistent among themselves, or even with respect to the writings which he published during his lifetime. In this case, both The Silmarillion as published in 1977 and the "Narn i Hîn Húrin" (as published in Unfinished Tales, 1980) were never finished or perfected by Tolkien. So I think some inconsistencies are probably unavoidable. Another explanation (and the one which I actually prefer) is to view the writings from within the secondary world, and question their origins and modes of transmission. If Bilbo created the narrative of The Silmarillion from his studies in Rivendell, then perhaps he found conflicting stories in the sources he used. And even from that point of view, who wrote the "Narn i Hîn Húrin"? We are told that it was the poet Dírhavel, and perhaps Bilbo used a copy of the "Narn" during his studies in Rivendell. Or perhaps he didn’t. Perhaps he used a different source that we don’t know. So which version is correct? Who knows! To me these types of inconsistencies do not diminish in any way the works of Tolkien, or my enjoyment of them. Rather I think they deepen it.


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Q: How are the Three Rings hidden–are they simply not used? (Apparently they can be worn without being wielded, while simply putting on the One seems to activate it.) Also, it was nearly 100 years between Sauron forging the One Ring and the Three being hidden–wouldn't he have been able to use the One to detect the bearers of the Three during that time?

–Susan Arrow

A: I am led to believe that the Three Rings were hidden for that time by being removed from the wearers’ hands. Indeed, at the very first moment that Sauron put on his newly-made Master Ring, he was aware of all the others under the One’s control: and the Three Guardians were instantly aware of Sauron as well. This shock of betrayal was motivation enough but the Elves were not immediately threatened by Sauron until later when he had readied his forces for war. Hiding the Three was imperative when the war started, and that meant taking them off and keeping them off, I would say. And 100 years is a very short length of time to an Elf. It would have been a small hardship to refrain from wielding the Three during that time.

However, when Sauron lost his precious Ring to Isildur, things were different. The Shadow, now defeated, would no longer threaten the works of the Three. And yes, it is apparent that they could be worn without being perceived by others. Tolkien tells more about the preserving, healing powers of the Three in Letters, see especially #131.


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Q: Why did the Nazgûl have such a hard time locating the Shire, first thinking it lay near the Gladden Fields? Unless I am mistaken, hobbits were already inhabiting Bree and vicinity during the time the Witch-King's armies were attacking Arnor. Don't you think the Lord of the Nazgûl would have had an intimate acquaintance with the geography of Eriador, such that he would have had a better clue where to look?


A: The Lord of the Nazgûl might have known the geography of Eriador once, but things change over time, names change, peoples move, and cities and realms arise, only later to be abandoned. For the years that Sauron (and the Nazgûl) were in hiding, they probably had little news, and when it came, via Gollum, it was not necessarily accurate. Yet it does seem reasonable for the search to begin near the Gladden Fields, for that was where Gollum’s people had lived at the time when he obtained the Ring. And from there they did seem to head towards Bree.



J. W. Braun has reminded me that there are some fascinating writings under the title of "The Hunt for the Ring" in Unfinished Tales, the main piece of which is subtitled "Of the Journey of the Black Riders according to the account that Gandalf gave to Frodo."

- Turgon

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Q: I am curious as to who the wives of Fingolfin, Fingon, and Orodreth are. They all have children, but the mothers are never mentioned.


A: I am curious too. There are many details to trace within the House of Fingolfin family tree, it being one of the most historically important in all of Middle-earth. Follow its branches far enough and you will eventually find connections to the Great Kings of Númenor and ultimately our dear King Elessar.

But the omitted wives of your query are simply not mentioned. We know plenty about Fingolfin’s children but not the woman who bore same. We are to assume then that Tolkien never got around to completing the record or perhaps kept his focus only on the named characters who had the greatest impact on the developing mythos.


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Q: Help me, I've thoroughly confused myself. What is the status of The White Towers during the War of the Ring? Karen Wynn Fonstad's Atlas led me to believe that they were "ruins," but a closer look lists them as settlements. During the Council of Elrond, Galdor states, "…and if he comes, assailing the White Towers and the Havens, hereafter the Elves may have no escape from the lengthening shadows of Middle-earth." This seems to indicate that the White Towers are still in use by the Elves, including Elostirion where a Palantír once sat. Correct me if I am wrong, but weren't they built by Gil-galad for Elendil? If so, since when did Elves take up the practice of dwelling in the old homes of men?


A: Karen Wynn Fonstad’s Atlas of Middle-earth is a fine work, but of necessity some of her ideas are extrapolations based on Tolkien’s writings. In The Silmarillion ("Of the Rings of Power and the Third Age"), it says that:

…the towers of Emyn Beraid were not built indeed by the Exiles of Númenor, but were raised by Gil-galad for Elendil, his friend. (p. 292)

Elostirion was the tallest and westernmost of the White Towers. Little information is recorded about its inhabitants, but the friendship of Gil-galad and Elendil would make it seem likely that for a time Elves and men dwelt there together. By the time of the War of the Ring, it does not seem to have been a major center, but it seems likely that the Elves retained it as a dwelling-place for many years.


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Q: There has been discussion about Gandalf and his return from bodily destruction (at the hands of the Balrog). Sauron, however, endured bodily destruction during the fall of Númenor. How come Gandalf could come back in a bodily form but Sauron not?


A: Good question, but the assumption that Gandalf’s body was destroyed is not canonical in the text. I assert his lifeless body lay intact at the peak of Celebdil after he cast down his enemy — and as we know his spirit left it quite completely. Something germane to this is said in Letters that Eru directly intervened to send Gandalf back to his original body on the mountain top. Tolkien tells us in Letter 156 that it was Eru’s wish (referred to as "the Authority") to counter the failure of the other wizards with a sacrifice, and Gandalf sacrificed himself in Moria. With greater power he was returned to his naked body and Gwaihir took him straight to Galadriel, who healed his physical form. Sauron had it much worse during the fall of Númenor, who certainly did NOT have the benefit of the almighty Ilúvatar to send him back.


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Q: Who was the father of Bandobras Took? In the "Prologue" it is stated that Bandobras "Bullroarer" Took was the son of Isengrim II, whereas it says in "Appendix C" that he was the son of Isumbras III and thus the grandson of Isengrim. Which is correct?

–Martin Andersson

A: You’re correct, and you’ve spotted an inconsistency. In the "Prologue" it says that "according to the Red Book, Bandobras Took (Bullroarer), son of Isengrim the Second, was four foot five and able to ride a horse." (p. 11). And in the family tree for "Took of Great Smials" in Appendix C, Bandobras (1104-1206) is clearly listed as the son of Isumbras III (1066-1159), and thereby the grandson of Isengrim II (1020-1122). In his study of the writing of The Lord of the Rings, Christopher Tolkien notes this discrepancy in The Return of the Shadow (p. 316), and he notes also that in The Hobbit Bilbo refers to Bullroarer as his "great-great-great-grand-uncle" (p. 27). It appears that the final family tree (as published in The Lord of the Rings) is in error, and Isumbras III should be the brother of Bandobras, rather than his father, and then Isumbras III and Bandobras would both be sons of Isengrim II.


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Questions 11/00
Quick navigation for questions asked this month.
 • Why the additional Morgul path?
 • The inconsistency in Tolkien
 • How were the Three Hidden?
 • The Nazgul searching for the Shire
 • The Fingolfin Family Tree
 • Were the White Towers inhabited?
 • How was Gandalf reborn?
 • Who was the real father of Bullroarer?


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