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Q: What books should I read by Tolkien and in what order? Are there any books that talk about the Fourth Age? What comes after Lord of the Rings?

A: This is quite an involved question that involves several answers.

First of all: the story set forth in The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings is self-contained within those four volumes. There is no book that gives a narrative of the Fourth Age, and not much discussed that takes place after the last chapter except what is described in the "Tale of Years" in the appendices to Return of the King. If you’re just looking for the main story that started all the fuss, read, in this order:

The Hobbit
The Fellowship of the Ring
The Two Towers
The Return of the King

And I encourage you to at least skim the appendices of Return of the King. Besides family tree and technical language information, they are surprisingly rich in added "small stories" that give some background on the characters contained in the main text.

Lord of the Rings is set on a grander stage, of which we only see a part. Larger, more sweeping background is given in:

The Silmarillion

This is a long, involved work that some say reads like the Old Testament. This is actually a pretty good comparison. It is divided into five main texts, plus supporting materials, beginning with Tolkien’s "creation story" (‘Ainulindalë’) and moving on to a very Greek-mythology-like delineation of the various "powers" at work in Middle-earth–Valar and Maiar (‘Valaquenta’). From there, the main part of the text tells the stories of the Elves as they appear in Middle-earth, strive with the Valar and one another, and are either overthrown in pride or live in peace in Valinor (‘Quenta Silmarillion’). The story of the rise of Men and the Fall of Númenor is told next (‘Alkallabêth’), followed by a brief synopsis of the events detailed in Lord of the Rings (‘Of the Rings of Power and the Third Age’). Supporting material includes genealogies, pronunciation guides, and a helpful index.

Christopher Tolkien set out to give a voracious public the background workings it took for his father to bring us his celebrated mythologies in the twelve volumes of The History of Middle-earth. These are fragments of older manuscripts, with notes on how Tolkien adjusted and edited his ideas over the course of the years of his writing. From things like different character-names to changes in events to poetical versions of stories that were eventually published as prose, these volumes are a rich feast if you really want to delve into how Tolkien created what he did. A four-volume sub-set of the same books is marketed separately as The History of Lord of the Rings. That’s right–those four volumes are the same as four volumes of the larger History, but as the title suggests, these four deal only with the writing of Lord of the Rings. A complete list of The History of Middle-earth volumes follows, with History of Lord of the Rings volumes marked with an asterisk.

Book of Lost Tales, Volume 1
Book of Lost Tales, Volume 2
The Lays of Beleriand
The Shaping of Middle-earth
The Lost Road and Other Writings
The Return of the Shadow*
The Treason of Isengard*
The War of the Ring*
Sauron Defeated: The End of the Third Age*
Morgoth’s Ring: The Later Silmarillion, Part One
The War of the Jewels: The Later Silmarillion, Part Two
The Peoples of Middle-earth

These are listed in the order published, but skipping around doesn’t really hurt.

A single stand-alone volume that contains lots of material is:

Unfinished Tales

This contains stories of both previously-known and unknown characters, like "The History of Galadriel and Celeborn and of Amroth King of Lórien," and different versions of already known stories, such as "The Quest of Erebor." Though it too is edited by Christopher, the notes are less prolific than in the History volumes. It might be prudent to save this one until after a reading of Lord of the Rings at least, and possibly even Silmarillion.

Stories by Tolkien that are not set in Middle-earth include "Farmer Giles of Ham," "Smith of Wootten Major," "Leaf By Niggle," and children’s fare such as "Mr. Bliss" and "The Father Christmas Letters." Those latter are letters that Tolkien wrote which purported to come from Father Christmas to his children, beautifully illustrated by him. "Farmer Giles" and "Smith" can be found together in one volume, and "Farmer Giles" appears again in The Tolkien Reader along with other shorts–"The Adventures of Tom Bombadil;" "Tree and Leaf," which includes both "Leaf by Niggle" and the illuminating essay "On Fairy-Stories;" and "The Homecoming of Beorhtnoth Beorhthelm’s Son," a semi-historical piece with background material by Tolkien.

Supplementary material about Tolkien is vast. Many works have been written, naturally, as explanatory or analytic regarding Lord of the Rings. However, for factual information on Tolkien’s life, you can’t beat Humphrey Carpenter’s three fantastic volumes:

J. R. R. Tolkien: A Biography
The Letters of J. R. R. Tolkien
The Inklings

The first two are precisely what they sound like. The third is a book detailing the interactions between Tolkien and a semi-formalized club that met twice a week for many years and included C. S. Lewis, his brother Warnie Lewis, Hugo Dyson, Charles Williams, and various others. Though it is largely biographical about Lewis, it sheds some interesting light on Tolkien’s relationships at various points in his life.

Hope this helps!


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Q: Having read the books many times, finally a question surfaces – if Legolas is an elf prince, why does he never "pull a Glorfindel" and "appear as he is on the other side" in order to defeat whatever happens to be attacking them? Is he not that kind of elf? (I admit, even after reading The Silmarillion, I can't keep them all straight.) Perhaps the story doesn't provide a suitable occasion? Perhaps he's never been to the other side? Is he just too young, and his abilities rest only in sword- and marksmanship?


A: Legolas is a Sindarin elf (see the beginning of Appendix B), who was born in Middle-earth and never looked upon the Undying Lands. Even before Tolkien decided that Glorfindel had been spiritually enhanced after his self-sacrificial slaying of the Balrog and subsequent resurrection in Valinor, Glorfindel's status as a Noldo was described by

Gandalf in "Many Meetings" – "They do not fear the Ringwraiths, for those who have dwelt in the Blessed Realm live at once in both worlds, and against both the Seen and the Unseen they have great power." Thranduil and Legolas did not have that spiritual stature.


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Q: Firstly, in The Silmarillion, it says that the seven palantír of Númenor had a master stone in Avalónnë in Valinor. Does this mean that the mortal men could have been able to see the Undying Lands? If they couldn't, surely a being of the order and power of Sauron could have been able to see and spy upon Valinor?


A: Strictly speaking, the master-stone spoken of is not in Valinor, but in Tol Eressëa, the Lonely Island of the Elves east of the Calacirya. But the Undying Lands had been removed from the world at the end of the Second Age, and Elendil had to use the palantír of Emyn Beraid, which unlike the others looked only to the West, to receive his vision of Eressëa. See the note in Appendix A, and the essay on the palantíri in Unfinished Tales.


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Q: Was Olórin in the Last Alliance against Sauron, or was it "no Valar, Ainur, or Maiar allowed" (with Sauron ignoring the rules as usual)? That kind of makes sense, since the Valar did not interfere directly in Middle-earth, and the Istari were not allowed to meet Sauron with their own force.


A: No; Appendix B makes it clear that the Istari did not appear until about Third Age 1000 or so. The Last Alliance took place near the end of the Second Age. Olórin had a special concern of the Children of Eru, and may have "walked among them unseen," as is said in the Valaquenta, but did not participate.


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Q: Here’s something I thought about recently. In the chapter Uruk-hai, we see Pippin and Merry taken captive by no less than three different bands of Orcs: the Northerners, the Isengarders, and the Mordor Orcs. Following the dialogue it seems to be established that the orc Uglúk, the leader of the Isengarders, is the one who has the final word on the captives’ fate: they are to be taken to Isengard. I would assume therefore, with the constant bickering and quarreling going on amongst the Orcs that he has the hobbits closely surveyed, so that no one might try to contradict his orders. And yet, when Pippin wakes up he finds himself guarded by two Orcs, first talking to each other in their own tongue, proving that they are from the same tribe or following, and later one of them muttering a long curse over Saruman and Isengard, proving that they are not Isengarders. Here is the question, then. Why would Uglúk trust these Orcs to guard his precious prisoners? Does he have some kind of hold over the northern Orcs, that they dare not oppose him? Even were it so, it still seems careless not to have the Hobbits amongst his own grunts. The northerners clearly state that they have come from the Mines to kill, and Uglúk can not know for certain that they won’t forget their orders in their rage. An even more odd remark is found in the Appendix F, where it is stated that the cursing Orc is a Mordor-Orc. One would assume he would be one of Grishnákh’s people then, and the other guard, too. This makes even less sense; the Mordor-Orcs are there to get the prisoners to Lugburz as they call it. This is not at all to Uglúk’s liking, so why he would choose such guards I cannot understand. So please help me try to figure out, if you can, whether the guarding Orcs are northerners, Isengarders or Mordor Orcs, and why Uglúk would be careless enough to leave the guarding to them. Also I would be interested in your opinion whether Grishnákh is an Uruk-hai or not.



Q:1) Is there a difference between Uruks (of Mordor) and Uruk-hai (of the White Hand), or is it just a linguistic difference? 2) When they refer to the men of Far Harad as troll-men, are they saying they are truly half-trolls or there size and strength is comparable to a trolls?

–Chris Bozzolo

A: Okay, longest question first, but with the shortest answer: It is made very plain that all the Orcs, the northerners and Mordor guys alike, were under the thumb of Uglúk. The northerners, especially, are afraid of him and take his orders. They even run in the sunlight, which hurts them. They would never dare attempt to make off with one of his prisoners. As for Grishnákh, he must have been outnumbered, and he was on the wrong side of the river, to boot. If he had had a winged Nazgûl handy…but he didn’t, so he "played along" with Uglúk until a chance came to make off with the prisoners privately, or so he thought.

As far as the "black Uruks of Mordor" and the "fighting Uruk-hai," it seems clear even within the confines of the story that there is a difference. First we know that the Uruk-hai were quite different from the normal run of Orcs. They were bigger, they could run and work in the sunlight, and they were bred by Saruman. "And now it is clear that he is a black traitor. He has taken up with foul folk, with the Orcs. Brm, hoom! Worse than that: he has been doing something to them; something dangerous. For these Isengarders are more like wicked Men. It is a mark of evil things that came in the Great Darkness that they cannot abide the Sun; but Saruman's Orcs can endure it, even if they hate it. I wonder what he has done? Are they Men he has ruined, or has he blended the races of Orcs and Men? That would be a black evil!'" Thus Treebeard. So though we aren’t clearly told, it seems safe to presume that they are indeed different, changed. And of course we have seen what Jackson’s vision of this change is.

As for the troll-men, it seems we can infer that they are really part troll, else I don’t think Tolkien would have bothered to distinguish. The quotations reads "troll-men and Variags and Orcs that hated the sunlight." That lumps them in altogether as evil creatures who could not abide light. And please don’t ask me what a Variag is, because I honestly don’t know! J


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Q: I have a question concerning the battle of the Last Alliance. I believe it says in the Silmarillion somewhere (I'm not sure where) that after Isildur cut the ring from Sauron's hand, Círdan and Elrond told him to go throw it in the fires of Mount Doom while they were there. And he ignored them, and a lot of nasty problems sprang up because of that. My question is, even if Elrond and Círdan couldn't touch the Ring without being corrupted, surely they could have fought and dragged Isildur up to the cracks of Mount Doom and forced him to throw the Ring in (or thrown him in if he completely refused). I know it would have been a terrible way to die, but wouldn't it be better than dealing with the return of Sauron in the Third Age?

Thank you!


A: I believe it’s safe to say that Elrond and Círdan did not approve of such "direct measures." Elves have been known to fight for what’s theirs, certainly, but manhandling another into doing their will for the higher good is not their thing. Remember, even the Valar didn’t force people to do things… they left it to Fëanor whether he would continue his madness for the Silmarils. Elrond makes it clear even in the "present time" that he would not force anybody to take the Ring to the fire, that nobody could lay that burden on another. Elves learned early and well the great truth: you can’t control other people’s behavior. Besides that–if they had tried to take the Ring from Isildur by force, would they have succeeded? Remember Gandalf’s words to Frodo: "Let you? Make you? Haven’t you been listening to all that I have said? … And I could not ‘make’ you, except by force, which would break your mind." Elrond and Círdan may have reasoned that it was not for them to break Isildur’s mind deliberately–that the course of events must run. He most likely could have lashed out, with the Ring, at them, and thus they would have accomplished nothing but their own deaths. We just can’t know what would have happened, but it seems obvious that they didn’t want to find out.


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Q: I read the question concerning the hiding of the Three Rings belonging to the Elves once Sauron was aware of them when he put on the One Ring. Wouldn't Sauron also then know WHO wore them, and then try to retrieve them? Even if he found it possible for the Rings to have been passed on, surely he would have made a move? Or was he so lustful and worried about the One to think of naught else after?



A: It seems clear that he must NOT have known who wore them, that the hiding was successful. He probably, in later years, saw the works wrought by the Rings (in Rivendell, Lórien, and the Havens), but at first they were not so openly used. "But Sauron could not discover them, for they were given into the hands of the Wise, who concealed them and never again used them openly while Sauron kept the Ruling Ring." This from The Silmarillion. Since Sauron’s hand had never touched the Three, it seems safe to theorize that he was not in as direct connection with them as he was with the Seven and the Nine and therefore would not have had direct knowledge as to their keepers.


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Q: What is the story about the "Seat of Seeing" that Frodo sits on in the end of the first book? Who created it and what was it used for and how?

– Peter

A: This is a complicated matter. Tolkien wanted us to know very little about the actual powers of the Seats of Seeing and Hearing, but when I look at the early drafts in the History of Middle-earth Volume VII, I see that he had some confusion of his own regarding these structures.

The main Seats atop Amon Hen and Amon Lhaw were built by the Númenoreans in the time when their power in Middle-earth was at its height, probably late in the Second Age. I cannot find any specifics on their building and construction.

There seems to have been some kind of "power of perception" that was bestowed upon someone sitting in either of the great stone chairs. The problem is knowing how much power was germane to the Seat, and how much was unique to Frodo because he was wearing the Ring at the time he sat there. Aragorn doesn’t see the same visions when he uses the chair at the beginning of The Two Towers. This is what Christopher Tolkien has to say in his notes on an early version of the story, "The Departure of Boromir":

The utter unlikeness of the experiences of Frodo and of Aragorn in the Seat of Seeing is not explained. I have said.... that as my father first drafted the account of Frodo’s vision it is explicit that it was ‘the power of Amon Hen,’ and not the wearing of the Ring, that accorded it to him; and the first version of Aragorn’s ascent to the summit shows this still more clearly (by the very fact that he also saw visions there). The final text of Frodo’s vision is less explicit, and if this is associated with the fact that in the final form Aragorn does go up but sees nothing it may suggest a more complex relation between the power of Amon Hen and the power of the Ring, a relation which is not uncovered.

So we go back to the chief rule in trying to analyze Tolkien: Everything was a work in progress, and the harder you look for something concrete, the faster you learn that Tolkien himself was not concrete on these things.


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Q: There are two things that I was wondering about the Ainur that did not become Valar or Maiar. The first: is it likely that there are Ainur as powerful as the Valar who did not descend to Arda? The second question is even more speculative. What is their purpose in the Tolkien mythology? Did Tolkien ever address this?



A: It seems clear that there are indeed more Ainur that stayed behind when the Valar descended. "…many of the most mighty among them bent all their thought and their desire towards that place. And of these Melkor was the chief…thus it came to pass that of the Ainur some abode still with Ilúvatar beyond the confines of the World; but others, and among them many of the greatest and most fair, took leave of Ilúvatar and descended into it." As far as their purpose, I’m unclear whether you mean the purpose of the Ainur or the purpose of the Valar. As for the latter, "But this condition Ilúvatar made, or it is the necessity of their love, that their power should thenceforward be contained and bounded in the World, to be within it for ever, until it is complete, so that they are its life and it is theirs." That seems clear enough–they give life to the World, and the World gives them purpose for their existence.

As for the rest of the Ainur, they were created out of the silence of the Void–possibly to give Eru some company in his music-making.


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Q: When the fellowship of the ring arrives Caradhras the weather seems to be against them. Also when they decide to not cross the mountains the weather changes (to sunny and not cloudy) like trying to help somebody to discover them. Is Sauron the one who controls the weather? Does he have such power?


A: Gandalf thought so: "I wonder if this is a contrivance of the Enemy," said Boromir. "They say in my land that he can govern the storms in the Mountains of Shadow that stand upon the borders of Mordor. He has strange powers and many allies."

"His arm has grown long indeed," said Gimli, "if he can draw snow down from the North to trouble us here three hundred leagues away."

"His arm has grown long," said Gandalf.

In an earlier draft (found in History of Middle-earth VI, "The Return of the Shadow"), Gandalf is the one who says Boromir's line about wondering about the Enemy and that he has strange powers and many allies.


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Q: Something you've probably come across before, but in the LOTR maps of the east of Middle-earth, just WHAT is the dotted area in the Sea of Rhûn? Lost Almaren?


A: Another fine pickle. It is definitely not the lost island of Almaren, but you’re getting close to the truth. I’ve been wondering about this for years, and now have found a few bits of evidence in the History of Middle-earth Volume VII that gives us a better clue.

Most all of the maps we see in today’s editions of LOTR come from the hand of Christopher Tolkien; redrafted from his father’s originals. Professor Tolkien altered and added to his maps as his work on the story progressed. His original working map (the "First Map") was a conglomeration of sections and glued bits of paper that he fussed with for many years: "It represents an evolution, rather than a fixed state of the geography." There was a later version called the "1943 map" that Christopher created.

Comparing these two maps, Christopher points out a well-forested island his father drew in the middle of the Sea of Rhûnaer, which would later be called the Sea of Rhûn. "The island in the Sea is coloured green on the First Map, and on the 1943 map is marked as wooded." That’s your island right there, but in later maps it seems to have vanished, replaced with an array of dots.

I don’t know exactly why Christopher changed it, but I suspect that later manuscripts and maps he found showed the removal of the island. Perhaps the discrepancy caused him to leave the dots to indicate what was a "questionable area."


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Q: When the Dwarves of beautiful Khazad-dûm built their Western door, why did they allow it to be inscribed with the insulting name of "Moria" ("Black Pit"), a name that would only be earned long years afterwards?

–Nemanja Pantos

A: In my humble opinion, the short answer is that Tolkien made a (gasp) mistake using the name "Moria" on the West-gate (it is "Moria" in the Sindarin Tengwar inscription of the illustration, not just its translation) rather than a friendlier name. At the time he created the inscription (which emerged quite early in the writing), he had not yet fully realized that the name was, so to speak, "politically incorrect" and "given without love," a sentence that was not written before the Appendices (which were still being written when Fellowship had already gone to press).

If we want to look for a way in which it can be true anyway (the real world is filled with stranger contradictions, after all), we can observe that the Noldor were not particularly comfortable with such underground dwellings and may have called it "Moria" (perhaps in a half-joking way) even when their friendship with the Dwarves was at its height. It also might be worth noting that there are little towns and other geographical features in the U.S. with rather horrifying names like "Niggers Bend" that are scarcely even noticed by the locals. Perhaps the name "Moria" had been used so much by the time Narvi and Celebrimbor made the inscription that nobody thought much about "blackpit" as being a particularly uncomplimentary name.


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Q: If Sauron is only a servant of Morgoth, how come he seems so evil in The Lord of the Rings that we never see him, even though we see Morgoth in The Silmarillion? Wouldn't Morgoth be more evil and secretive?



A: As far as I can recall, Morgoth was seen outside of his stronghold in Angband only twice in the First Age after the darkening of Valinor: when challenged by Fingolfin (answering this question gave me the chance to re-read the wonderful passage in The Silmarillion in which Fingolfin "came alone to Angband’s gates, and he sounded his horn, and smote once more upon the brazen doors, and challenged Morgoth to come forth to single combat. And Morgoth came."), and when Thangorodrim was broken and he was brought forth forcibly. Similarly, Sauron was not seen outside of his fastnesses in Dol Guldur or Barad-dûr after the Ring was cut from his finger and much of his native power was lost. In both cases, the power of these dark lords lay primarily in their ability to control the wills of others and direct their armies and servants.


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Q: Greetings good folks! What would have happened if any mortals used one of the Three Elven Rings? Faded, become immortal, or what do you think?

–Ecthelion of the Fountain

A: Let’s look at it this way: What difference was there between Gandalf using Narya as opposed to the way Círdan used it? Since we have no written experience of Círdan using his ring, we can’t really know. But we have better information than just guessing. Look in Tolkien’s Letters, No. 131, and you’ll find this description of the Rings of Power:

The chief power (of all the rings alike) was the prevention or slowing of decay (i.e. ‘change’ viewed as a regrettable thing), the preservation of what is desired or loved.... but also they enhanced the natural powers of the possessor.

He later goes into more specifics about the Three:

The Elves of Eregion made Three supremely beautiful and powerful rings, almost solely of their own imagination, and directed to the preservation of beauty: they did not confer invisibility.

There is a particular understanding that the Three Rings would never be used for any other purpose. No fading, no shrinking, no invisibility. Since they were crafted by Elves without Sauron ever touching them, there is zero chance that the evil currents of lust, power, and corruption would course through the Three. Of course, the very fact of the Elves using these Rings to deny the mandate of change and the passing of time (which was the will of Eru – or God) is a sort of corruption unto itself, but that’s another story!


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Q: Who wielded the Dwarven rings? It had been said that the seven hoards of the Dwarf Fathers of old all had one of the Seven Rings as a source of it, so who were the other six Fathers, aside from Durin? Did he also wield one of the Seven? Thank you for any answers that you can provide.

–Patrick Williams


Q: Tolkien wrote always about the seven fathers of the dwarves but only mentioned Durin by name. Did the other have any name that has been recorded? It is said that the greatest mansion of the folk of Durin was Khazad-dûm /Moria and that Durin awoke under Khazad-dûm. Did the other folks have any 'traditional' mansion or where did they awake? Perhaps Belegost or Nogrod, although it was said that after the destruction of Beleriand the dwarves still traveled to their mines in the Blue Mountains and that Thorin Oakenshield also lived and worked there for a while(and he was of Durin's folk) It was also said that in the battle of Azanulbizar fought many dwarves not of Durin's folk. So what is known about these Fathers and Houses? Thanks.

–Hollûsy Tams / Sauron

A: The fathers of the other Houses of the Dwarves (besides Durin of the Longbeards) were never named, nor did JRRT publish anything about those Houses. In a late (ca. 1967) essay on Dwarves and Men that appears in the History of Middle-earth XII ("Peoples of Middle-earth"), a bit more information is given. The Elves only knew of two of the original Dwarf homes: "The most westerly, the awakening place of the ancestors of the Firebeards and the Broadbeams; and that of the ancestor of the Longbeards, the eldest in making and awakening. The first had been in the north of the Ered Lindon ...; the second had been Mount Gundabad (in origin a Khuzdul name), which was therefore revered by the Dwarves, and its occupation in the Third Age by the Orks of Sauron was one of the chief reasons for their great hatred of the Orks. The other two places were eastward, at distances as great or greater than that between the Blue Mountains and Gundabad: the arising of the Ironfists and Stiff-beards, and that of the Blacklocks and Stonefoots." This is the first time that the other Houses were named.


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Q: Hi, love the site, have read the full all-in-one unicorn publication of LOTR many times, so to me it's always seemed one big book, and now I'm reading the History of Middle-earth series and it occurs to me that Morgoth and Co. were pretty ruthless... so how the hell did Tom Bombadil survive during the First Age and so on? Surely Morgoth didn't just go... "well... I won't bother with him and leave that little space alone..." No, surely he just bulldozed over everything as usual including Bombadil's "country?"

–Ag James

A: When Tolkien first began constructing the great legends and back-story of Arda, our dear Tom Bombadil was not really part of the scene. In other words, Tom was not in the mind of the creator while the creation was in full tilt.

Tom Bombadil, as you all know by now, was inspired by a little doll that Tolkien’s children played with (and once tried to flush down the toilet). He was not an "essential" part of the back-story or a serious component of the developing mythology, so we are left pondering all these little mysteries: like how Morgoth could have overlooked him.

But if you want my speculation in a simpler context, which is always iffy, I say that Tom kept to himself and out of Morgoth’s way. He pretty much stayed out of everyone’s way, unless he had a good reason to show himself. Think about this: if Tom is really the "personification of Nature" itself, as many people like to think, then why would he want to engage or encounter Morgoth? To talk? To challenge him? Tom never got involved in politics or wars, and he seemed to be solely concerned with himself. Just BEING himself.

I see no compelling reason why Tolkien would have pursued this kind of thing while developing his legendarium, as it holds nothing key to the larger canvas he was painting.


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Q: At the end of the Third Age, with the One Ring destroyed and the power of the Three Elven rings to delay decay with it, the few remaining Elves went West to the Undying Lands and the dominion of Man began. My question is, if Isildur had destroyed the One Ring when he had the chance, would the Elves have abandoned Middle-earth right then, or would they have stuck around longer?

–Duane Davis

A: I’m ready to speculate that the Elves’ power extant with the Three Rings would have diminished at any time the One was destroyed, sooner or later. They were all doomed to leave eventually, they were just REALLY reluctant, for the most part. They lingered in Middle-earth a lot longer certainly because they had a crutch, an ongoing excuse to use the Three for preservation and "healing." Take that crutch away and there seems only guilt and stubbornness to motivate such behavior (and that’s no fun). With the race of Men destined to replace the Elves, something Elves all knew in their hearts as true though many begrudged it, it was only a matter of time.


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Q: If Dwarves are not corruptible by the Rings of Power, why didn't Gimli bear the Ring to Sammath Naur instead of Frodo? A couple thoughts: the Rings still made the Dwarves greedy for gold, so even if Gimli didn't set himself up as the new Dark Lord, he may still have run off and started hoarding. Maybe he never would have made it past Moria. Or perhaps the One Ring was powerful enough to corrupt even Dwarves who wore it, with the possible exception of Durin himself. Or perhaps it was because the Dwarves in Middle-earth were fading just as the Elves were, so it was appropriate for a Hobbit or Man to bear the Ring, since the Fourth Age would belong to them. Addendum: Just how would the Master Ring effect a Dwarf?


A: Tolkien generally did not "know" much about the Dwarves; the conceit is that his information came from Elvish and Mannish sources, so a lot of this is guesswork. It is never said that Dwarves are not corruptible by the Rings of Power; only that Sauron could not use the One Ring to dominate their wills through those Rings. Tolkien makes it clear in his Letters that no mortal could have resisted the corruption of the Ring (including Frodo, of course); we can speculate that a Dwarf in possession of the Ring would have been deluded that he would lead armies of Dwarves (and other, lesser creatures like Elves and Men), first to clean out the Orc strongholds of Moria and Gundabad, then forge great weapons as of old, and ultimately defeat the Dark Lord.


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Q: I find it hard to believe that the five Nazgûl retreated from Weathertop after injuring Frodo. Since the Lord of the Ringwraiths was so fierce in the battle where he was slain, why would five of them retreat from Aragorn (without a sword) and three hobbits? I know Aragorn reasoned that they thought Frodo would succumb to their will, but why not just grab him and run? How hard would that have been? Sorry if you've already answered this and I didn't see it.



A: I’ve given a lot of thought to this, because it is a weak point in any plot-oriented story. As a matter of fact I’ve been surprised nobody has asked us this before. This is wholly my own theory, but it works for me. I don’t believe the Nazgûl could necessarily take Frodo against his will while he was alive, conscious, and wearing the Ring. Yes, the Ring wanted to give itself to them, but once Frodo set it upon his finger, he was at least nominally in control, and his entire will was focused in resisting them. Thus they thought the best route would be to give him a wound which would supercede his will, turn him into a wraith under the domination of the Ring, rather than the Ring being even nominally under his control. Once that happened, they would be able to pick him up and take him, or perhaps he would go willingly, who can say, but at Weathertop he was still himself, unwounded, and in command of his own faculties, so I think they would have had a job to take him, as long as he was wearing the Ring.


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Q: Something I've been wondering: If Saruman was indeed generally recognized as the foremost of the wizards, and if at that time no trace of his coming fall from grace was apparent, how come Gandalf got one of the Elven rings and he didn't? (And who was it that handed them out in the first place? Celebrimbor?) Also, on a related issue: Why didn't Saruman take the ring from Gandalf when he held him prisoner? Surely, as a trusted leading member of the Council, he would have been aware that Gandalf had it in his possession?


A: My best answers for the first part of this question are: Círdan was wise. It was probably obvious even at that stage in the game that Gandalf was seriously intent upon opposing Sauron. Círdan may even have had some foresight on the subject, or maybe he just liked Gandalf more than he did Saruman! As for Saruman taking the ring from Gandalf, I’d say it’s quite out of the question that he knew Gandalf had it. Yes, though he was a member and even leader of the Council, still, the rings were not openly talked about with those who did not keep one. I don’t think it stretches imagination at all that Saruman didn’t realize Gandalf held the ring, otherwise his enmity against Gandalf probably would have started long before it actually did. My Silmarillion does not say who gave the rings, only that they "were given into the hands of the Wise." One would presume Celebrimbor was a part of it.



Many readers have written in lickety-split to remind me of a small passage in Unfinished Tales that proves Saruman did indeed know Gandalf was in possession of Narya the Red.

"And the Grey Messenger took the Ring, and kept it ever secret; yet the White Messenger (who was skilled to uncover all secrets) after a time became aware of this gift, and begrudged it, and it was the beginning of the hidden ill-will that he bore to the Grey, which afterwards became manifest."

So there you have it–my apologies for having overlooked this very important passage. In addition, it gives a clearer answer as to why the Ring was given to Gandalf. It’s true that it was because Círdan was wise ("he saw farther and deeper than any in Middle-earth"), but also to fulfill the purpose of the Ring.

"’For,’ said he, ‘great labours and perils lie before you, and lest your task prove too great and wearisome, take this Ring for your aid and comfort. It was entrusted to me only to keep secret, and here upon the West-shores it is idle; but I deem that in days ere long to come it should be in nobler hands than mine, that may wield it for the kindling of all hearts to courage."


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Questions 02/02
Quick navigation for questions asked this month.
 • What books should I read by Tolkien and in what order?
 • Does Legolas have Glorfindel's power?
 • Could the palantír spy on Valinor?
 • Did Olorin fight against Sauron?
 • Difference between Uruks and Uruk-hai?
 • Could Elrond force Isildur's hand?
 • Sauron reclaiming the Three?
 • Powers of the Seat of Seeing?
 • Purpose of the Ainur?
 • Sauron controlling the weather?
 • Mysterious dots in the Sea of Sea of Rhûn??
 • Why call it the "Black Pit"?
 • We don't see enough of Sauron
 • What if a mortal uses an Elven Ring?
 • Who wielded the Dwarven Rings?
 • Tom Bombadil versus Morgoth
 • Would Elves depart M.E. any sooner?
 • Why not Gimli as Ringbearer?
 • Why did the 5 Nazgûl retreat?
 • Could Narya be taken from Gandalf?


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