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Q: When I read LOTR I realize that all things in this book don't have to be true to life, that’s why it’s a fantasy. But one thing that I've always wondered when I read the books is why Pippin and Merry were accepted so readily by their masters, Denethor and Théoden respectively. Why would these important men accept the service of two rather insignificant hobbits on a whim? Wouldn't there be years of training for a position so prestigious as the Guard in Minas Tirith? We know when we read the books that these are two special Hobbits, but how would Denethor and Théoden know that? I’m sure there is a logical explanation. Thanks.

–Colin Gatten

A: Here is my explanation… but how logical it is I must leave to the discerning taste of my readers. I believe that Gandalf had a far-reaching foresight in these matters; and we see this foresight come to play in Rivendell as the wizard soothes Elrond’s doubts and advises the two young hobbits be granted a place in the Fellowship. He knew something was up. Perhaps he even knew of the future connections the hobbits would have to the great rulers of Gondor and Rohan.

I don’t find it unusual that Merry and Théoden bonded with such immediate warmth. Having just been healed and riding on the afterglow of his triumph at Helm’s Deep, I see Théoden as opening up his eyes to Life as he never had before. It is a unique transformation for him through a close series of events. And suddenly there is a "legend out of the past" that comes strolling into the King’s life, a Holbytla, eager to help and begging for a way to be of use to the Kingdom. I too would be completely charmed by Meriadoc’s tenacity. Young Merry feels a sudden devotion to the old man, and follows his natural instincts to serve, rather than feel isolated and miserable after Pippin’s departure. Makes perfect sense to me; and I find it quite moving.

Pippin, however, doesn’t bond nearly so naturally with the grouchy old Denethor. Nor does he really need any training for his "honorary position" in the Citadel. Initially, the Steward of the City is suspicious and badgering, playing a mental chess-game with Pippin (a metaphor that Tolkien effectively uses twice in the same chapter). At a pivotal point in this tête-à-tête, Pippin rises to the challenge and offers his sword to the service of Gondor, effectively doing the only thing that will earn Denethor’s trust and repay his life-debt to Boromir. This is a brilliant counter-check that Denethor immediately recognizes as admirable, indeed grace under pressure. Thus Pippin is granted a token position in the Guard, given in a rather conciliatory manner. Not bad for a fool of a Took!

- Quickbeam

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Q: Something that just occurred to me: We are well aware that Merry the Hobbit was able to pierce the mighty sinews that knit the undead flesh of the Ringwraith, aided as he was by a blade of Westernesse, and by virtue of the fact that his was not the hand of Man, but of Hobbit.

Does this mean that–in theory, anyway–when the Black Riders attacked on Weathertop, that any one of them could have been utterly slain by the three armed Hobbits (Sam, Merry, and Pippin) who had already plundered blades from the Barrow Downs? I realize that the prophecy about "only by the hand of Man" thing applied only to the Witch-king, but I find it hard to believe that, as their chief, he would in fact be more limited than his vassals.

–Jon Cannon

A: The other eight Nazgûl would not necessarily be more limited in power and stamina. Remember that Gandalf warns Frodo that "the Ringwraiths themselves cannot be so easily destroyed." Tolkien tells us this to augment how fearful and dangerous they are, and to foreshadow their return later in the story.

Looking back on Anwyn’s previous discussion of this, I am inclined to say no to your hypothesis. Merely holding a blade of Westernesse would not be enough to slay such a creature. But you can easily correlate the wielder’s force of will to the effectiveness of his blade, as in Merry’s case of despairing rage on the Pelennor (and also in Sam’s moment of fury against Shelob). The directed force of will, or you could call it the focused spiritual essence (or moment of blind epiphany) is a major component relating to artifacts and weapons. It’s how Tolkien makes these things work: the Palantír, the Phial, the Ring. Yes, Merry helped facilitate the Witch-king’s demise, but the death-stroke belonged to Éowyn. She was the key element to his destruction, in keeping with the demands of the prophecy and the extension of her fierce resolve.

- Quickbeam

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Q: In Tolkien's books there are many hints that Middle-earth is actually the Earth and that our history takes place some time after the last events in his mythology. For example he claims to have found the source material for The Lord of the Rings in the Red Book of Westmarch and other books. In a letter (I think) Tolkien says that the present time is probably in the fifth or sixth age of the world. I have some questions on this. How much did Tolkien really delve into this link from his mythology to the recorded human history? Did he ever explain how the shape of the world changed from that of Middle-earth to our Earth? Is this at all an important key to understanding how Tolkien pictured Middle-earth?

–Erik Eraran

A: The conceit that the tales of Middle-earth refer to our own world at some mythical earlier point in time has been part of Tolkien's world since its earliest beginnings (see, for example, the history of Eriol in The Book of Lost Tales). Whole stories, such as "The Lost Road" (found in the volume of that title) or "The Notion Club Papers" (in Sauron Defeated) are based on the idea that Middle-earth could be rediscovered by someone in a later period of history. There is no question that Middle-earth is conceived to be our world at another time.

In the Akallabeth (and also, less explicitly, in the discussion of the fall of Númenor in Appendix A), it is explained that the Valar called upon Eru to intervene when Ar-Pharazôn invaded Aman, and that the world was then transformed from its previous "Flat Earth" form to its current shape–"all the seas were bent", so that only special ships could sail the "straight path" to Aman thereafter.

But as Christopher Tolkien shows in the section entitled "Myths Transformed" in Morgoth's Ring, sometime after The Lord of the Rings was published, Tolkien had second thoughts about the "Flat Earth" cosmology of his mythology and had decided–at least tentatively–that such tales as the kindling of the stars by Varda or the tale of the Sun and the Moon were unacceptable to modern educated audiences; and must be erroneous myths received via human (e.g., Númenorean) sources. On the other hand, in 1968 he wrote a letter (#297) that indicated that Eärendil and the Silmaril represented the morning star (Venus), so he may have decided that such a complete restructuring of his cosmology was unnecessary after all.

So, like so many other matters concerning Tolkien's creation, "how Tolkien pictured Middle-earth" is not easily described; it was constantly in flux.

- Ostadan

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Q: Where do you think Tolkien was going with "The New Shadow"?  Just looking for your best educated guess, though rampant speculation is also welcome.  Who would be the heroes–would there be hobbits, elves, dwarves among them, or just Men?  Who would be the adversary?  How would it fit into the existing Middle-earth mythos?


A: For those who don’t know, "The New Shadow" is the single chapter which Tolkien wrote as the beginning of a sequel to The Lord of the Rings. It is published in volume 12 of Christopher Tolkien’s "History of Middle-earth", The Peoples of Middle-earth (1996). Christopher Tolkien also quotes a few letters by his father, as follows:

I did begin a story placed about 100 years after the Downfall [of Sauron], but it proved both sinister and depressing. Since we are dealing with Men it is inevitable that we should be concerned with the most regrettable feature of their nature: their quick satiety with good. . . . I found that even so early there was an outcrop of revolutionary plots, about a center of secret Satanistic religion; while Gondorian boys were playing at being Orcs and going round doing damage. I could have written a ‘thriller’ about the plot and its discovery and overthrow–but it would be just that. Not worth doing.

(Letter dated 13 May 1964)

I have written nothing beyond the first few years of the Fourth Age. (Except the beginning of a tale supposed to refer to the end of the reign of Eldarion about 100 years after the death of Aragorn. Then I of course discovered that the King’s Peace would contain no tales worth recounting; and his wars would have little interest after the overthrow of Sauron; but that almost certainly a restlessness would a appear about then, owing to the (it seems) inevitable boredom of Men with the good: there would be secret societies practicing dark cults, and ‘orc-cults among adolescents.)

(Letter dated 1972)

From these notes we can deduce some strands of where the story might have gone. The story was evidently centered among Men, and some of the younger Gondorian guards who are seduced into evil by Herumor. I have doubts about how this might deal with "the end of the reign of Eldarion," the son of Aragorn and Arwen. In a version of "The Tale of Years" (published in The Peoples of Middle-earth), Tolkien wrote: "Of Eldarion son of Elessar it was foretold that he should rule a great realm, and that it should endure for a hundred generations of Men after him," (p. 244-5). This is difficult to reconcile with the idea expressed above that "The New Shadow" would "refer to the end of the reign of Eldarion."

Tolkien’s probably correct that the book were have been a mere thriller. But I for one would surely like to be able to read it.

- Turgon

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Q: Whassup. In the first chapter of The Hobbit, Bilbo mentions something about going all the way to the Last Desert and fighting the great Were-worms. My questions are: 1. What is he talking about? Are they real? 2. How could Bilbo know about that, if he were nothing more than a simple hobbit from the Shire?

–Wandering Eye

A: I suddenly have this image in my head of Gandalf and the 13 dwarves all sitting around Bilbo’s dining room table (in the dark), each of them overlapping the other with monotonous declarations of "Whassup!" Oh, how my skin crawls.

In answer to your question: I think this falls under the umbrella of Stone Giants being found in The Hobbit but nowhere else in Tolkien’s creation. These elements of "the Fairy-story" are unique in Tolkien’s first novel, being used as "salt & pepper" to season the story he was crafting. I don’t think this reference to Were-worms need be taken literally. It sounds to me like a colorful hobbit-ish expression, as in this case Bilbo is hyperbolizing to Glóin (and under some pressure to assert himself).

- Quickbeam

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Q: Is Déagol Sméagol's cousin or friend? In The Complete Guide to Middle-earth (1978 ed.) by Robert Foster and in Tolkien: The Illustrated Encyclopedia by David Day (1991 ed.) Déagol is listed as being Sméagol's cousin. However, in my Ballantine edition of LOTR, Tolkien says that Déagol is Sméagol's friend. I think, upon initial creation (in earlier editions of LOTR) Déagol was in fact Sméagol's kinsman and not just an acquaintance, but this was changed for the revised editions of LOTR (merely a guess). Can any of you shed any light on this? Why was such a change made, if indeed there was a change? Did Tolkien himself or has his son, Christopher commented on this? Christopher describes the evolution of The Fellowship of the Ring in Return of the Shadow: The History of the LOTR Part 1 (Middle-earth Series, Volume 6) and so I only skimmed the book last time I was at the bookstore as I couldn't afford to buy it. It doesn't mention the change and refers to Déagol as being Sméagol's friend. It did mention that initially, Déagol was in fact the name of Sméagol, which I thought was interesting, although it has no bearing on my question.


A: In the earliest versions of The Lord of the Rings, published in The Return of the Shadow, the story of two friends finding the Ring does not appear. Only "Digol" appears, in the role that we know as Sméagol. Digol "found the ring in the mud of the river-bank under the roots of a thorn tree." Later, using it, he earns the nickname Gollum.

In the "fourth phase" of composition, the name Sméagol is introduced, as is the story of the murder of Déagol. In this version, Déagol is called a "friend," as he is in all subsequent versions, including the published text of 1954-55, and the later revised texts. I do not know where Foster came up with the "cousin" connection (at least the instances he cites do not contain that information).

However, in The Letters of J. R. R. Tolkien (published in 1981, three years after Foster last revised his book), Tolkien notes that Déagol was "evidently a relative (as no doubt all the members of the small community were)" of Sméagol’s (see p. 292).

- Turgon


Craig wrote in to point out that "the use of "cousin," especially in England, is applied to anyone who is in the clan with you -- basically anyone you consider related, or kin. It did not historically have the definite definition of aunt or uncle's child as it does now."

- Turgon

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Q: Hi. In the last chapter of Fellowship, while Frodo is on Amon Hen, while wearing the Ring he fights over whether to take it off or not. Two voices seem to help him with this. One is evil and wants to go to Sauron. The other yells at him to take it off. My question is who is the second voice? I know the first voice is Sauron inside the Ring, but who is the second voice? Gandalf?

–The Wandering Eye

A: Yes, the second voice is Gandalf. As he says in The Two Towers (in the chapter "The White Rider"):

Very nearly it [the Ring] was revealed to the Enemy, but it escaped. I had some part in that: for I sat in a high place, and I strove with the Dark Tower; and the Shadow passed.

If this scene appears in the film (it is quite dramatic), it presents a dilemma for Peter Jackson. Should Gandalf's voice be used? If not, then it becomes meaningless. If Gandalf is heard, it sort of gives away Gandalf's fate too early. On the other hand, perhaps people unfamiliar with the story (there are such people, you know) would misinterpret it as Gandalf's disembodied shade, a la Obi-Wan Kenobi in Star Wars. "Aw, gee," whines some 11-year-old. "What a Star Wars rip-off." Not until the next film, a year later, would its meaning become clear.

- Ostadan

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Q: Regarding Eärendil’s sons: I was looking through some texts and found something very weird about Elrond and Elros' childhood. It is said they lived with the Exiles of Gondolin (and the Exiles of Doriath) but it doesn't speak of their relation with their parents, nor details about the sack of the sons of Fëanor. How old were they when this happened? How did the elves find Elrond behind a waterfall... and could Elrond and Elros actually be Eluréd and Elurín?


A: Tolkien wrote little concerning the later years of the First Age in his later work on The Silmarillion (i.e., after Lord of the Rings was completed). In "The War of the Jewels", Christopher Tolkien presents the concluding entries for The Tale of Years, a chronicle of the First Age written during that period, and forming part of the basis for The Silmarillion. From this we can determine that Elros and Elrond were born in the year 532, and Elros and Elrond taken captive by Maglor (the chronicle names Maedhros) at the time of the third Kin-slaying in 538, so they would have been about six years old at the time. Incidentally, in "Laws and Customs among the Eldar" (in Morgoth's Ring), we learn that Elf-children developed more slowly than their mortal counterparts and did not reach full growth until their fiftieth year or so (although perhaps the half-elven Elros and Elrond were exceptional); so they may have been even younger than their chronological age suggests. Elros was 58 years old when the Second Age began, in the prime of his youth. The same chronicle lists 534 as the year that Eärendil began his voyages, so his children never saw much of him.

Eluréd and Elurín (here named Eldún and Elrún), the sons of Dior, were abandoned in the second Kin-slaying, in 509, and would have been adolescents by 532, if they survived. No more authoritative chronology is known to exist.

- Ostadan

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Q: In The Hobbit on page 151 there is a description of Wood-Elves. It says that they differed from the High Elves and were descended from the ancient tribes that never went to "Faerie" in the West. I've only heard of Aman in the West. Is it a misprint?

–Zexfandria Greenleaf

A: No, it is Tolkien’s translation of some Common Speech word (possibly Aman) used by Bilbo in the Red Book to English; the word "Faerie" is an English word referring to the dwelling-place of the fairies (or Elves). In the same passage, for example, the Vanyar, Noldor, and Teleri are referred to by similarly translated names, "Light-elves", "Deep-elves", and "Sea-elves." In an earlier edition of The Hobbit the Noldor were also called "Gnomes".

We also see "Faerie" used in a similar context in Bilbo's poem "Errantry" in The Adventures of Tom Bombadil, closely related to his poem about Eärendil in Rivendell.

- Ostadan

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Q: This question is one that was really getting to me when I read The Silmarillion last week. I noticed that when Aulë created the Dwarves, he created the "Seven Fathers of the Dwarves." Well, if he just created the Fathers of the Dwarves, then where did all the later Dwarves come from? Because it doesn't say anything about female Dwarves being created.


A: The passage in The Silmarillion tells us that Aulë "made first the Seven Fathers of the Dwarves." At which time, his presumption was questioned by Ilúvatar, who gave life to Aulë’s creations but insisted that they sleep until after the awakening of the Firstborn. Ilúvatar says that "I have taken up thy desire and given to it a place therein; but in no other way will I amend thy handiwork, as thou hast made it, so shall it be."

I think we have to take it for granted that, in accepting the Dwarves into his design, Ilúvatar must have augmented Aulë’s creations in number, if not exactly amending Aulë’s handiwork. At which time he may also have added the female Dwarves.

Still, as Tolkien himself wrote in Appendix A of The Lord of the Rings, "concerning the beginning of the Dwarves strange tales are told both by the Eldar and by the Dwarves themselves," and anything speculations we might make are just that.

- Turgon


Imrahil has written to point out a nice quotation from Tokien’s Letters (no. 212, p.287), where Tolkien explicitly states that Aulë created both male and female dwarves:

"Aulë, for instance, one of the Great, in a sense ‘fell’; for he so desired to see the Children, that he became impatient and tried to anticipate the will of the Creator. Being the greatest of all craftsmen he tried to make children according to his imperfect knowledge of their kind. When he had made thirteen,* God spoke to him in anger, but not without pity."

*[Tolkien’s footnote:] One, the eldest, alone, and six more with six mates.

". . . And he [Eru] commanded Aulë to lay the fathers of the Dwarves severally in deep places, each with his mate, save Durin the eldest who had none."

- Turgon

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Q: I'm inquiring about my favorite character, Legolas. Sure, I know who his father is; but who the heck was his mother!? He couldn't have just magically appeared or something! Thanks so much. Love your site.

–Zexfandria Greenleaf

A: Indeed. We find so many of Tolkien’s characters who have their historic lineage recorded only on the father’s side… rarely on the mother’s. We simply have no record of the Queen of Mirkwood! We can certainly assume she existed but her name is nowhere to be found. It is, perhaps, a mark of the influence that Icelandic and Anglo-Saxon poetry had on Tolkien’s formation of his mythos. For there is a literary tradition that is deeply rooted in patriarchy; and the records of great warriors are distinguished through that prism. It is reasonable that Tolkien kept to that tradition during his life-long creation of Middle-earth’s history.

- Quickbeam

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Q: Who was Queen Berúthiel and what’s the story with her cats?


A: The story of Queen Berúthiel exists in an outline, and is told in Unfinished Tales. Christopher Tolkien gives this account:

She was the nefarious, solitary, and loveless wife of Tarannon, twelfth King of Gondor (Third Age 830-913) and first of the ‘Ship-kings’, who took the crown in the name of Falastur ‘Lord of the Coasts’, and was the first childless king. . . . Berúthiel lived in the King’s House in Osgiliath, hating the sounds and smells of the sea and the house that Tarannon built below Pelargir ‘upon arches whose feet stood deep in the wide waters of Ethir Anduin’; she hated all making, all colours and elaborate adornment, wearing only black and silver and living in bare chambers, and the gardens of the house in Osgiliath were filled with tormented sculptures beneath cypresses and yews. She had nine black cats and one white, her slaves, with whom she conversed, or read their memories, setting them to discover all the dark secrets of Gondor, so that she knew those things ‘that men wish most to keep hidden’, setting the white cat to spy upon the black, and tormenting them. No man in Gondor dared touch them; all were afraid of them, and cursed when they saw them pass.

What follows [in the outline] is almost wholly illegible in the unique manuscript, except for the ending, which states that her name was erased from the Book of the Kings (‘but the memory of men is not wholly shut in books, and the cats of Queen Berúthiel never passed wholly out of men’s speech’), and that King Tarannon had her set on a ship alone with her cats and set adrift on the sea before a north wind. The ship was last seen flying past Umbar under a sickle moon, with a cat at the masthead and another as a figure-head on the prow. (pp. 401-2)

- Turgon

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Q: Is it possible that Gothmog, the Balrog, was given one of the Nine Rings and thus became the Nazgûl second in command?


A: This is an interesting theory… and would explain Tolkien’s duplication of the name Gothmog. But I would immediately have to rule this out since we know the Nine Rings were given only to Mortal Men. The Gothmog who terrorized Elves and Men in the First Age was truly a Maiar spirit in origin, not a Man.

There is more on this subject from one of our earliest Q&A, found here.

- Quickbeam

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Questions 02/01
Quick navigation for questions asked this month.
 • Why accept the service of two Hobbits?
 • How easy is it to kill a Ringwraith?
 • Is Middle-earth our Earth?
 • Tell us of The New Shadow
 • The Were-worms of the Last Desert
 • Was Déagol a true relation?
 • Was that Gandalf's disembodied voice?
 • What of Eärendil's sons?
 • What was Faerie in the West?
 • Who created the female dwarves?
 • Who was Legolas' Mother?
 • Who was Queen Berúthiel?
 • Did Gothmog wield one of the Nine?


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03/01/05 question three

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