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Q: Recently, a linguistic question has troubled several users of a German Tolkien board. It is about the following line from the Ring verse: "In the land of Mordor where the Shadows lie." In this case, do you feel, as native speakers of English, the verb "to lie" has a double meaning: (a) to be situated, (b) to speak the untruth? If so, is one of the meanings more likely? If you say (a), has (b) ever occurred to you after all, or would you never think of shadows as being able to "say the untruth." In my previous opinion, "the shadows lie" could well mean "you can’t even trust the shadows in Mordor", but now I’m not sure anymore as a result of the ongoing discussion over here.


A: There has never been any question in my mind about the Ring Verse. The verb "to lie" in this instance has only one meaning to me: (a) to be situated. Perhaps it is more entertaining to look for "hidden meanings" here, but I’ve always thought it was spooky and effective enough to imagine this vast region filled with horrible shadows.


I've always interpreted it as "where the shadows are" and nothing more.


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Q: Regarding a poem in the books and something in the movie that looks like a mentioning of it. In the books the Barrow-wight sings something that Frodo considers an incantation: 'Cold be hand and heart and bone...' Now I have a couple of questions on the song and the Wight: (a) We know from Unfinished Tales [part IV "The Hunt for the Ring," Version (ii)], that the wights are Spirits of the Witch-king and that he aroused them when he had camp at Andrath. So I was wondering: (i) Wouldn't the wight notify the Witch-king that it had captured the hobbits? (ii) And why put an incantation on the Hobbits that seems to hold for a long time if the Witch-king was only hours away? (iii) And how did the wight learn this incantation anyway? Do you think it has been given to it by the Witch-king for this special occasion? (iv) The Hobbits have been captured just a few hours after nightfall, and Tom saves them at dawn the next day. Wouldn't that have been enough time for the Witch-king to reach the barrows? (Compare also the Atlas of Middle-earth for the location of Andrath). (v) This question is about the song Gollum sings in the Dead Marshes in the TTT movie, not the book! In the movie he sings: "Cold be heart and hand and bone. Cold be travelers far from home. They do not see what lies ahead, when Sun has failed and Moon is dead." This really strikes me as being somehow related to the wight-incantation. How would Gollum come across such a song? And as it seems to be a Childhood-Memory, how would the River Folk come across it? What was PJ thinking when he did this? I thought my brain out, but I just can't even begin to guess.

–Katharina Spoerri

A: What you quote from Unfinished Tales is material from a couple of later manuscripts (versions B and C) that Tolkien did not finally use as canon. It was not REALLY part of the final story, Christopher explains; as Professor Tolkien himself kept rewriting and changing the details. I offer that these notes upon which you base your query are just the author's musings on what "could have been"; and you should not rely on them as essential (or final) to the completed narrative.

The wights in the final version of LOTR do not seem to have a real relationship with the Witch-king. It is interesting that Tolkien spent some time considering that the wights were "awakened" by the presence of the Black Captain, but you cannot outright assume some means of communication existed between these creatures. We don't know that was what Tolkien intended, exactly (for as we see in Unfinished Tales, Christopher has judged the other material in manuscript A is closer to definitive). As the story stands, the wight does not seem to care a single bit about the Ring that Frodo has on him – or sending reports back to any Nazgûl – instead he seems most interested in feeding off the souls of the living. The incantation used seems to have just one purpose: to immobilize the hobbits so they could be sacrificed. And who can say exactly how the wight "learned" such an incantation? Was this fell power innate? Wights were originally demonic spirits from the realm of Angmar [<a href="http://greenbooks.theonering.net/questions/files/102499.html#barrowwights">see this previous Q&A article </a> for more on the origin of the Barrow-wights], and could ostensibly possess all manner of powers and magicks we do not specifically know much about. There are older and fouler things than Orcs in the deep places of the world, eh?

And, yes indeed, the song Gollum recites in the TTT movie is a very close variation to the wight incantation. Why the screenwriters put that in there, and what they were thinking to create with the scene, is something I can only guess at. I assume only this: the writers liked the quality of the verse and thought it would somehow be appropriate for the Gollum character to express himself that way. We see a little bit in the FOTR Extended Edition how Hobbits enjoy expressing themselves with song and verse. See the singing in The Green Dragon Inn and Sam’s verse recital in Lothlórien. Now in TTT it seems to be a cultural connection between Frodo and Gollum that the latter bears a similar expressive trait.


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Q: Why is Rohan also called the Riddermark?

A: "Rohan" is a Sindarin name, and is the name for that land used by the people of Gondor and by the Elves. As the index entry in LOTR explains (rather tersely), it is a modernization or adaptation of the name "Riddena-mearc", meaning "Land of the Knights" – the name of Rohan used by the people of Rohan themselves in their own language (represented as Old English). Usually just "the Mark."


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Q: How is it possible that Barahir's ring survived the Fall of Númenor, so Aragorn can happily wear it in the Third Age? If it was indeed passed down in the line of Elros, it should have been in the King's possession and with him, it should have been lost under the wave. How did it come to Elendil the lord of Andúnië? I tried to look it up in Unfinished Tales, but I found no explanation. I know it is kind of a ridiculous question. It is great that Aragorn wears that ring – it connects with the story of Beren and Lúthien and also it gives an impression of his ancestry coming from the deeps of time, yet still I am curious whether Tolkien solved or noticed this problem anywhere.

–Marie Fousková


Q: My question is about Barahir. Why is there a ring called the ‘Ring of Barahir’ and why is it an heirloom to the house of Isildur? I read something about it being rescued by Beren in great peril but I cannot figure out what Barahir has to do with the House of Isildur. Can you tell me?

–Neva Black

A: The Ring of Barahir was given to Barahir, father of Beren, by Felagund of Nargothrond as a token of his oath of abiding friendship, as told in the tale of the Ruin of Beleriand in The Silmarillion. In the tale of Beren and Lúthien, we learn how the captain of the Orcs that slew Barahir cut his hand from his wrist with the ring still on it, and how Beren slew the captain and took the hand and ring. The ring passed to Beren's heirs and so became an heirloom of the house of Elros Tar-Minyatur, the first king of Númenor.

In Unfinished Tales, a note to the Description of Númenor tells us that "Only the Ring of Barahir father of Beren-One-hand survived the Downfall; for it was given by Tar-Elendil to his daughter Silmariën and was preserved in the House of the Lords of Andúnië, of whom the last was Elendil the Faithful who fled from the wrack of Númenor to Middle-earth."

If Tolkien had not written this note, something like it would probably be an inevitable inference anyway.

[Incidentally, the Ring of Barahir does appear in the films. In a scene apparently edited out of The Two Towers, Saruman evidently identifies it by name.]


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Q: If Gandalf became Gandalf the White through his battle with the Balrog, did Saruman go through a similar ordeal? Or to ask it another way, what did it take for Saruman to become "Saruman the White?"


A: Near the end of The Silmarillion, it is recorded that the Istari appeared in the west of Middle-earth, that none knew who they were except Círdan, and that he revealed only to Elrond and Galadriel that the Istari came from over the Sea. "Chief among them were those whom the Elves called Mithrandir and Curunír, but Men in the North named Gandalf and Saruman. Of these Curunír was the eldest and came first, and after him came Mithrandir and Radagast, and others of the Istari who went into the east of Middle-earth, and do not come into these tales."... "But at length the Shadow returned and its power increased; and in that time was first made the Council of the Wise that is called the White Council, and therein were Elrond and Galadriel and Círdan, and other lords of the Eldar, and with them were Mithrandir and Curunír. And Curunír (that was Saruman the White) was chosen to be their chief, for he had most studied the devices of Sauron of old. Galadriel indeed had wished that Mithrandir should be the head of the Council, and Saruman begrudged them that; but Mithrandir refused the office, since he would have no ties and no allegiance, save to those who sent him, and he would abide in no place nor be subject to any summons."

Though this speaks more to Saruman being the head of the Council, it does seem to say that Saruman was "the White" through no other virtue than being elder and sent first, before Gandalf. The section on Istari in Unfinished Tales does not appear to contradict this.


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Q: At the end of the chapter Mount Doom, Sméagol takes the Ring from Frodo and falls into the Cracks of Doom. However, what would have happened to Sméagol if the Ring had been destroyed by some other means, and he survived? Bearing in mind that he is over five hundred years old, would he have continued living, like Bilbo did, or died there and then?

–D. Berry


Q: Bilbo possessed the Ring for about 70 years. According to LotR, he aged little while in possession of it. Once he gave up the Ring, he aged rather quickly over the next 30 years. On the other hand, Gollum, a Hobbit-like creature, had the Ring for about 500 years. He aged little while he possessed it. However, during the 100 years more or less after he lost it, he remained quite vigorous and does not appear to have aged much more. Why?

–Rick Kelly

A: Keep in mind that the "sudden" aging of Bilbo is largely a movie invention. While it is true that according to Tolkien, the Ring slowed the effects of his aging, Tolkien does not say that Bilbo suddenly became white-haired and decrepit after he lost the Ring. I’m sure his aging tended back to normal speed, but there’s no saying that he didn’t live many years longer in Valinor.

As for Gollum, Bilbo clearly lived on after the destruction of the Ring. I have no reason to think that Gollum would just up and die. Moreover, Gollum had, as you have pointed out, around 500 years for the Ring to act to slow his aging. It is likely that he would tend back to "normal" aging even slower than Bilbo, and no reason why he wouldn’t have lived on for quite a time after the Ring was destroyed.


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Q: When, where and how did Bilbo meet and befriend Aragorn, exactly?

–Bryan Rounds

A: Remember that seventeen years pass in between Bilbo’s farewell birthday party and Frodo’s departure from the Shire. During most of that time, Bilbo was a guest of Elrond. Simply by lack of any tale telling of a meeting elsewhere or at another time, I believe that Bilbo met Aragorn while living in Rivendell. He says that he made up the "All that is gold does not glitter" rhyme when Aragorn "first told [Bilbo] about himself." [See also this previous Q&A here.]


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Q: There is something about the name Nazgûl that I wondered about. I am quite interested in the Black Speech, where the word 'Nazgûl' means Ringwraith(s). However, if you take the word apart you get 'nazg' and 'ûl'.

'Nazg' means ring and 'ûl' has no meaning (although 'ul' means them). The word wraith in the Black Speech is 'gûl', so shouldn't it be 'Nazggûl' instead of 'Nazgûl'? Or is it meant to be written with only one G?

–Rinke Spee

A: Tolkien does indeed write that Ring-wraith is a translation of "Nazgûl, from nazg 'ring' and gûl, any one of the major invisible servants of Sauron dominated entirely by his will" (in the Guide to Names). Remembering that Tolkien always writes his languages phonetically, we must conclude that in Black Speech the sound of a double-G is reduced to a single one, and not pronounced separately. This is similar to English; only when speaking very carefully do we pronounce a pair like "bag-grabber" with two distinct Gs. It is certainly no more unexpected than other phonological changes, such as Sindarin 'caran' + 'ras' becoming 'caradhras'.

Remember, this is Tolkien's invention. He is always right (even when he changes his mind)!


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Q: What's the go with Elrond? I know that Gil-galad gave his ring (Vilya) to Elrond before he died – what makes him so special that he should receive such a gift? Just because he's the peredhil who chose to become an Elf? (And he belongs to the group of Elves that never saw the light of the Two Trees, whereas both Círdan and Galadriel have, doesn't he? Gil-galad belongs to the Calaquendi, doesn't he?)


A: No, neither Elrond nor Gil-galad beheld the light of the Two Trees, as both Trees were destroyed before they were born. Neither are counted among the Calaquendi, specifically. But to your real question about Elrond: I understand he and Gil-galad had a strong relationship over the millennia. After the Sons of Fëanor attacked the Exiles of Gondolin, Elrond (and his brother) were pretty much without parents. "Orphans" for lack of a better term. So after a few complications were worked out, Elrond stayed with Gil-galad in Lindon; and I imagine Gil-galad was like a foster father to him. It is not surprising that Gil-galad would give him Vilya, for Elrond had proven himself a powerful, wise, and highly effective Elven lord.


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Q: We know from The Silmarillion that both Sauron and Saruman were Maiar under the jurisdiction of Aulë. Is there any connection between this, and the fact that both became corrupt? Sauron, obviously, becomes the second Dark lord; and Saruman strays from his original task in Middle-earth. Now that I think of it, even Aulë disobeys Eru and creates the Dwarves before the First Born awaken. Does Tolkien ever reveal a relationship between these three figures?

–Josh Duval

A: Other than from a thematic standpoint, there is no direct relationship among Sauron and Saruman. Throughout the work, the craft of Aulë is associated with the peril of misuse and corruption, though of course this is not inevitable. Fëanor learned much from Aulë and created many great works including the Silmarils; but Morgoth's lies corrupted Fëanor. After Morgoth's fall, Sauron desired to bring order to Middle-earth, originally for the material good of its inhabitants, but soon fell into evil. The Noldor of Eregion (who, it will be noted, have the greatest friendship with the Dwarves) wrought the Rings of Power to their lasting woe. The Dwarves were to enrich Doriath, but instead brought its downfall. Saruman was to oppose Sauron, but in his studies of Sauron's works instead became an imitation Sauron himself.

Tolkien was not 'anti-technology', as some have said – he admires the works of the Dwarves and Elves, and the Hobbits are rather high-tech by the standard of their age. But these crafts are a means to power, a way to control the world. Such power is dangerous, even to the Elves and Istari.


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Q: In Moria, the Orcs appear after all that noise... and then the Balrog appears. My question is, why? What was the motive that would make him go after the Fellowship? The One Ring? Gandalf? Or was it just all that noise?

–Yuri Murakami

A: Quite simply, I have always believed that the Balrog of Moria was attracted by the Ring. The power within the Ring was the essence of Sauron, and it is likely that that focal point of evil brought the Balrog (himself a Maiar spirit akin to Sauron) out to play. Maybe it was all three things you mention. It certainly could have started with the Orcs mobilizing, creating a tumult as they did so. Then maybe Gandalf’s presence (and his spell on the door) and the Ring’s presence alerted Mr. Balrog that something was really afoot in his underground realm.


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Q: Hobbits were reasonably peace-loving but I wonder what type of justice system they employed. Were there judges? Were the lockholes (mentioned in "The Scouring of the Shire") made by Sharkey and his gang or were they jail cells made by the hobbits? Or am I horrendously misinterpreting something?


A: Apparently, ruffians under order from Sharkey took some storage tunnels and converted them into "Lockholes" to serve as prisons. I assume that after the Scouring the Lockholes were immediately dismantled and returned to their prior function. Before Saruman entered the Shire, it seems the Hobbits really had no need for such jails or harsh disciplinary methods. There is no mention of Judges or Courts, only the Shirriffs – who were "more concerned with the straying of beasts than of people." If you look in the very beginning of Fellowship of the Ring, and read the "Concerning Hobbits" Prologue, you will learn much more about how peaceful and law-abiding they were. Look especially at Part 3, "Of the Ordering of the Shire," and you will see that Hobbits obeyed "The Rules" out of a simple understanding of what was right and proper. I wish our own lives were so crime-free!


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Q: What exactly is Dol Amroth? I figured out for myself that it's a kingdom of some kind because in RotK the Prince of Dol Amroth comes with his men to help fight at the Pelennor Fields. But what I don't get is: why, when Denethor had killed himself, Faramir was in the Houses of Healing, and Aragorn wasn't King yet, the Prince of Dol Amroth took over the city and ruled it until Faramir was healed? Thanks.



Q: My question is this. What is Dol Amroth, and what does it (and its Prince) have to do with Gondor?


A: Dol Amroth is a "fief" or province of Gondor, very similar to the way that, say, Wales or Scotland is subject to the British crown. There are Dukes and Lords in Wales and Scotland, but no king. There is a Prince of Dol Amroth, but no king, and it is subject to Gondor and the rulers of Minas Tirith. Thus with the Steward dead, his eldest son dead, his second son incapacitated, and the king not yet returned, the ranking noble in Gondor was the Prince of Dol Amroth, Imrahil, and he ruled the City until the Steward could take up his post and until the king was revealed.


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Q: The Dead Marshes have the bodies of Elves, Men, and Orcs, from the great battle of Dagorlad (if I am not mistaken), which is nearby. However, why would Elves and Men not return to give their comrades proper burial rights?


A: Oh, but they did give their kin proper burials. The dead were buried in graves to the west of Dagorlad – but throughout the years the marshes spread further to the east. Eventually the specific area of the graves was soaked up within the fens. Gollum explains to the hobbits: "But the Marshes have grown since then, swallowed up the graves; always creeping, creeping." Karen Wynn Fonstad explains this phenomenon in detail from a topographer’s perspective in her Atlas of Middle-earth.


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Q: What happened with the remaining Dwarves in the North after the passing of the Elves in early the Fourth Age? Is there any mention in and after the Fourth Age? This might be trivial but even as Gimli is allowed to join the boats to the West, would any other Dwarf think of the same idea? Maybe they weren't allowed to because they didn't have a part in the War of the Ring (as far as I know, maybe they had a battle themselves in the North)...?

–Ronald 'the NiteAngyl' from the Netherlands

A: In Appendix A., we are told that: "Gimli brought south a part of the Dwarf-folk of Erebor, and he became Lord of the Glittering Caves. He and his people did great works in Gondor and Rohan. For Minas Tirith they forged gates of mithril and steel to replace those broken by the Witch-king." To this we may add material that was written for Appendix A., but omitted (perhaps for space or due to haste in collation): "And the line of Dáin prospered, and the wealth and renown of the kingship was renewed, until there arose again for the last time an heir of that House that bore the name of Durin, and he returned to Moria; and there was light again in deep places, and the ringing of hammers and the harping of harps, until the world grew old and the Dwarves failed and the days of Durin's race were ended." Although the passage was omitted, "Durin VII and Last" appears in the genealogy in Appendix A. [Editor’s Note: see this previous Q&A article that references the Dwarves of Erebor fighting the Enemy during the War of the Ring.]

Tolkien makes it clear in the note that ends Appendix A about Gimli accompanying Legolas over the sea that this was a unique circumstance. The Dwarves are 'a race apart', and they do not pass over the Sea.


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Questions 02/03
Quick navigation for questions asked this month.
 • Double meaning in the Ring Verse?
 • Does Gollum sing the Barrow-wight song?
 • Why is Rohan called the Riddermark?
 • Tell us of the Ring of Barahir
 • Why is Saruman considered 'the White'?
 • Rapid agind after using the Ring?
 • About Bilbo and Aragorn?
 • Etymology of the word Nazgul?
 • Why give Vilya to Elrond?
 • Does Aul‘ equate to corruption?
 • Why does the Balrog appear?
 • Any Hobbit Justice System?
 • What exactly is Dol Amroth?
 • No proper burial in Dagorlad?
 • What became of the remaining Dwarves?


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