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Q: I have just finished rereading The Hobbit and at the end (p310) it says that the white wizards had at last driven the Necromancer from his dark hold in the south of Mirkwood. Was this Sauron and where exactly? Thanks.


A: The first mention of the "Necromancer" is actually in the very beginning of The Hobbit during the Unexpected Party. Yes, that is Sauron the Dark Lord they are talking about. The Enemy had made the fortress of Dol Guldur his home at that time.

While the travelling company was stumbling through their misadventures in Mirkwood, Gandalf (along with a recalcitrant Saruman) had brought the power of the White Council to drive Sauron out of the fortress. You will see something about this in ‘The Tale of Years’ in Appendix A of LOTR (T.A. 2941). Also click on this previous Q&A for more details.

- Quickbeam

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Q: Quite a few brave souls were slain in the passing of the Ages in Middle-earth. But did Tolkien ever give an indication of how many people lived there?


A: Only indirectly, and only from the occasional mention of the size of armies. The men-at-arms that arrive at Minas Tirith from the south are said to number less than 3000 (although ten times their number had been expected). The number given for Aragorn's host that began the march to the Black Gate is 7000. Turgon's army at the Nirnaeth Arnoediad in the First Age numbered 10000. By way of comparison, the English and French armies at Agincourt (1415 AD) are estimated at about 6000 and 23000, respectively (the English carried the day, as recounted in Shakespeare's Henry V). So we may conjecture that northwestern Middle-earth was populated on a level similar to, or somewhat less than, Europe during the late medieval period–on the order of about 30-50 million people (this figure obtained from the Internet Medieval Sourcebook). We cannot guess at the populations to the east and south; nor can we estimate just how many Orcs bred beneath the Misty Mountains nor elsewhere.

- Ostadan

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Q: I just re-read The Lord of the Rings. I am also fond of astronomy and the legends and mythos that we can all read in our own constellations, if we just look up. I noticed that some references to stars in Middle-earth mirror those in our own lofty skies. For example in Fellowship, when the hobbits meet Gildor:

…Away high in the east swung Remmirath, the Netted Stars, and slowly above the mists red Borgil rose … and there leaned up, as he climbed over the rim of the world, the Swordsman of the sky, Menelvagor with his shinning belt.

This excerpt seems too much of a coincidence to be anything but the Pleiades star cluster, red Aldebaran and Orion the Hunter; these rise in the east well into the night during late summer or early autumn (same as in the book). This leaves me to believe that the professor knew his stars extremely well.

My question(s) is this: Are the names Remmirath, Borgil and Menelvagor relevant? I quickly skimmed The Silmarillion but could not find a clue. It seems to me that Elves, being immortal, would not idly name that which would trigger such joy that they would suddenly burst into song. If these names are relevant, has Tolkien composed some sort of mythology surrounding the heavens of Middle-earth as we have done looking at our own stars? But this brings another question... Is it possible for elves to have myths? Or is everything "history" to them? By the same token has anything ever been said or written about Tolkien the "astronomer?"


A: To take your questions in almost reverse order, I don’t know of any pieces written on Tolkien as astronomer, but it would be a very interesting topic.

As to the elves and their "myths" or "histories," that seems to be a matter of perspective. Isn’t The Silmarillion, in one sense, just that–a collection of myths about the origins of the world? At least, according to Men, it would probably be considered myths, though the Elves might instead call it history. A lot of myths emerge out of a misty interpretation of history, so it’s hard to say where "history" itself ends, and myths begin. In any case, I don’t see why Elves themselves wouldn’t have myths about some things, and recognize them as such.

As to Tolkien composing some sort of mythology surrounding the heavens of Middle-earth, yes indeed: there is a fascinating cosmological essay with diagrams called "Ambarkanta: The Shape of the World," which is published in the fourth volume of The History of Middle-earth, "The Shaping of Middle-earth" (1986). But I don’t think this is quite what you want–which is, I gather, something more like Middle-earth legends about the constellations. I don’t recall Tolkien writing much about this, other than the fascinating passage you cite in the chapter "Three Is Company," and the passage in Chapter Three of The Silmarillion where Varda kindles the stars:

Then Varda went forth from the council, and she looked out from the height of Taniquetil, and beheld the darkness of Middle-earth beneath the innumerable stars, faint and far. Then she began a great labour, greatest of all the works of the Valar since their coming into Arda. She took the silver dews from the vats of Telperion, and therewith she made new stars and brighter against the coming of the Firstborn; wherefore she whose name out of the deeps of time and the labours of Eä was Tintallë, the Kindler, was after by the Elves Elentári, Queen of the Stars. Carnil and Luinil, Nénar and Lumbar, Alcarinquë and Elemmírë she wrought in time, and many other of the ancient stars she gathered together and set as signs in the heavens of Arda: Wilwarin, Telumendil, Soronúmë, and Anarríma; and Menelmacar with his shining belt, that forebodes the Last Battle that shall be at the end of days. And high in the north as a challenge to Melkor she set the crown of seven mighty stars to swing, Valacirca, the Sickle of the Valar and sign of doom.

Menelmacar (Menelvagor in The Lord of the Rings) is clearly the constellation Orion. Valacirca is the Great Bear (or Big Dipper). Of Wilwarin Christopher Tolkien writes: "The word meant ‘butterfly’ in Quenya, and the constellation was perhaps Cassiopeia." Carnil is "the name of a (red) star"–perhaps this later became Borgil? Luinil is a star shining with blue light. Borgil could perhaps be Aldebaran or perhaps Betelgeuse. Remmirath does seem to be the Pleiades.

Another highly interesting source to look at regarding Tolkien’s knowledge of astronomy is his unfinished "Notion Club Papers," published in Sauron Defeated (1992).

- Turgon

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Q: I know of Tolkien’s references to mithril, and I have read many conjectures as to how mithril came about in his world. I have also read much fantasy written since LOTR and many contain references to mithril. Now of course I realize that almost everyone who has written fantasy in the last 30 years or so have used many of Tolkien’s ideas, but I also know that Tolkien himself used tons of pre-existing mythology, history. Anyway my question about mithril is: did Tolkien himself make this up? Or did he take this from say, old alchemist lore.


A: "Mithril" is an Elvish word (Sindarin, "Grey-Gleam") for the prized metal found under Moria. It is also called "silver-steel," "Moria-Silver," and "true-silver." I believe it is original to Tolkien, though certainly the concept of a special, highly durable and beautiful metal is familiar from folklore and fairy tales. But Tolkien himself certainly invented the word "mithril."

- Turgon

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Q: Legolas is often portrayed by artists as having yellow hair and indeed has yellow hair in Peter Jackson's upcoming movies, but from what I understand yellow and golden hair is rare for elves. In the books, what is Legolas' most likely hair color?

–Ryan Cross

A: Tolkien says (in Appendix F) that "The Eldar ... were tall, fair of skin and grey-eyed, though their locks were dark, save in the golden house of Finarfin..." As for Thranduil and Legolas, they were of Sindarin origin; in The Tale of Years (Appendix B), we learn that in the beginning of the second age, "many of the Sindar passed eastward, and some established realms in the forests far away, where their people were mostly Silvan Elves. Thranduil, king in the north of Greenwood the Great, was one of these." So it is likely that Thranduil and Legolas were dark haired. We know nothing of Legolas' mother, who may have been of Silvan heritage. In the ‘History of Galadriel and Celeborn’ (in Unfinished Tales) an appendix tells us that: "the Silvan Elves (Tawarwaith) were in origin Teleri, and so remoter kin of the Sindar." So, if we assume that only the Vanyar were golden-haired, we must conclude that Legolas was dark haired.

- Ostadan


In March 2001, I carelessly wrote, of Legolas, that because Appendix F tells us that the Eldar are dark-haired (save in the House of Finarfin), and Thranduil is one of the Eldar, as one of the Sindar, that "it is likely that Thranduil and Legolas were dark haired." I of course overlooked the passage in The Hobbit in which Bilbo and his friends see "a woodland king with a crown of leaves upon his golden hair," and regularly receive mail correcting me on this point.

As Douglas A. Anderson points out in a note on this passage in The Annotated Hobbit, this description is indeed an apparent contradiction to the statement in Appendix F. When faced with a contradiction like this, we can simply shrug and chalk it up as an author error, or we can try (as Tolkien himself sometimes did) to come up with an explanation within the story for the contradiction. One possibility, perhaps just a bit silly, is that like other Telerin or Sindarin elves, Thranduil was actually silver-haired; Bilbo mistakenly identified his hair as golden because he was seeing Thranduil illuminated only by firelight! This would be little different from some of Bilbo's other exaggerations or simplifications found in The Hobbit.

After the downfall of Sauron at the end of Lord of the Rings, we are told that most of the hobbit children born or begotten that year 'had a rich golden hair that had before been rare among hobbits.' Might Thranduil have been born just after the downfall of Morgoth? Could Middle-earth have had a similar Year of Plenty at that time, in which otherwise rare golden hair was common? The 'canonical' evidence is silent on this point, but it is an appealing possibility.

Another possibility is to reconsider the strength of the paragraph in Appendix F. As Anderson reminds us, the original draft of the text found in "Peoples of Middle-earth" (History of Middle-earth Volume XII) applied only to the Noldor, not the Eldar as a whole; certainly the Vanyar were Eldar who were not dark-haired, even if they were not closely kin to Indis the mother of Finarfin. But even if we take it at face value (referring perhaps only to the Eldar who were in Middle-earth), there is no reason to take it as a universal and unvarying truth. When we are told that Hobbits are "hospitable and delighted in parties, and in presents, which they gave away freely and eagerly accepted," we do not conclude that there are no exceptions to this rule -- the Sackville-Bagginses come to mind, for example. We are told that the Elves are beardless, but we see Círdan with a long beard. In short, Tolkien always allows for exceptional cases, something that makes his world feel more real and less like a Dungeons and Dragons sourcebook.

Incidentally, for the growing number of Legolas fans that have resulted from Orlando Bloom's portrayal, an excellent summary of what is known or can be inferred about this character can be found at [click here]. Many times we get questions about why Legolas, the son of a king, is not treated with more reverence -- this page considers that question at length.


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Q: In the Battle of Five Armies, shouldn't it really be six? The Men, the Dwarves, the Elves, the Orcs, the Wargs, and the Eagles, right? But my real question is which is it: the Wargs and Orcs and one or are the Eagles not included? Probably obvious at first to some but there's arguments for both as I see it.


A: No, the Eagles did not count as an entire army on their own. Rather they were a reinforcement or a group of "helpers" for the Men, Elves, and Dwarves... just like Beorn was a surprise "helper." The Goblins may have been using the Wargs as beasts of burden but, as Tolkien states, the forces were counted as two armies. I find it interesting that Bilbo in the Rankin/Bass TV movie of The Hobbit incorrectly accounts for the Eagles as the fifth army. The correct categorization of the Five Armies is:

1. Men
2. Elves
3. Dwarves
4. Goblins
5. Wargs

- Quickbeam

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Q: I was just wondering about a seeming inconsistency with the age of Merry. For the main bulk of the story he is portrayed as being much younger than Frodo. The Appendix that gives everyone's date of birth also bears this out. I think he was about 31 when the quest for the ring began but he also plays a small part at beginning of the story helping Frodo sort Bilbo's stuff out after the party. This takes place 17 years earlier and yet Merry is portrayed as Frodo's peer and certainly not a child of about 14 or 15. Is this just Tolkien using his artistic license or is there another explanation?


A: Frodo was born in 2968 of the Third Age (1368 Shire Reckoning); Merry in 2982 (1382). Just for comparison, Sam was born in 2980 (1380), and Pippin in 2990 (1390). So Frodo is about fourteen years older than Merry, twelve years older than Sam, and twenty two years older than Pippin. Bilbo’s Farewell Feast took place in 3001 (1401), when Frodo was 33, Sam 21, Merry 19, and Pippin 11. Merry does appear with Frodo at the end of the chapter "A Long-Expected Party" but to me, the age difference doesn’t really present a problem in credibility. Pippin doesn’t appear until the next chapter (a few pages after Merry), where Tolkien writes of Frodo’s life in the years after Bilbo left:

He lived alone, as Bilbo had done; but he had a good many friends, especially among the younger hobbits (mostly descendents of the Old Took) who had as children been fond of Bilbo and often in and out of Bag End.

- Turgon

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Q: Hi! This is my question: Glamdring is said to be the sword of the King of Gondolin in The Hobbit. However, was this the sword that was left for Tuor by the sea or one that he fought with while in Gondolin?

–Mr. Chance

A: Glamdring is the sword used by Gandalf that he found in the troll’s hoard, as we learn in The Hobbit. As Elrond told him, "This, Gandalf, was Glamdring, Foe-hammer, that the king of Gondolin once wore." Elrond’s statement says only that the King of Gondolin once wore the sword, not necessarily that it was the sword he left for Tuor, or the one used during the Fall of Gondolin, in which battle he perished. During his long lifetime Turgon probably had several swords, and any one of these could have been the one he left (at Ulmo’s command) for Tuor to find in the deserted halls of Vinyamar.

If Glamdring were the sword Turgon used at the Fall of Gondolin, the question becomes how the sword made it from Gondolin (in Beleriand in the First Age), to the troll’s hoard in Eriador in the Third Age. But it seems likely that such an ornamented (and clearly valuable) sword would have been picked up by plunderers after the destruction of Gondolin; and from there it could have passed from hand to hand among thieves and other disreputables, before it ended up finally with Bert, Tom and William. This is, of course, speculation. All we really know is what Elrond said.

- Turgon

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Q: A number of references have been made to the decline of the peoples other than Men in the fourth age and beyond. Did Tolkien write anything about what became of the Dwarves and those of the Elves that remained in Middle-earth ? Were the Elves permitted to travel West after Círdan departed ? I would assume the answer is "yes" as Eriol reached Tol Eressëa in "modern" times - around the 8th century AD - one of the interesting linkages between Tolkien's history and our own.

–Rich Gotham

A: It’s implied by Tolkien that the Elves diminished after the end of the Third Age, and it certainly seems that the elves could still travel West after Círdan’s departure in the Fourth Age, though perhaps the way might be more difficult to find. The Dwarves, too, have by necessity dwindled. For if we think of the present as the Seventh (or Eighth) Age of Middle-earth, then Elves and Dwarves are known mainly through legends, not through daily interaction.

- Turgon

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Q: While visiting a message board at another site, there was a discussion regarding Boromir and what it was that caused him to be overtaken with madness. I always felt that it was a character flaw with Boromir, a weakness that caused him to be obsessed with possessing it for what he thought would be a noble cause. But in this discussion, someone proffered the suggestion that 'it was the evil of Rauros' that possessed him and caused him to temporarily lose sight of reason. I have read LOTR many times and never got the impression that Rauros (the falls) were evil. Formidable, powerful perhaps with ancient nobility but not evil. What do you have to say to shed light on this?


A: To the contrary: Aragorn says, "We will send him to the Falls of Rauros and give him to Anduin. The River of Gondor will take care at least that no evil creature dishonors his bones." Generally, water is considered a "good" element in Arda, associated with the beneficent Ulmo. Tolkien is more explicit about this in his "notes on motives in The Silmarillion" (found in "Morgoth's Ring"):

For example, all gold (in Middle-earth) seems to have had a specially ‘evil’ trend–but not silver. Water is represented as being almost entirely free of Morgoth. (This, of course, does not mean that any particular sea, stream, river, well, or even vessel of water could not be poisoned or defiled–as all things could.)

The idea, never fully realized, of the Nazgûl having difficulty crossing water (seen in Unfinished Tales), also supports the idea of water as a "pure" or "good" element.

- Ostadan

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Q: In the Silmarillion, at one point Lúthien turns herself into a "Vampire." Is there any indication in the rest of Tolkien's work as to just what a vampire was supposed to be?


A: Actually, it’s Sauron who turns himself into a vampire. After Beren is captured by Sauron, and held in his dungeons, Lúthien and Huan come to rescue him. Sauron took upon himself the form of a werewolf, but lost the battle to Huan: "Thus Sauron yielded himself, and Lúthien took the mastery of the isle and all that was there; and Huan released him. And immediately he took the form of a vampire, great as a dark cloud across the moon, and he fled, dripping blood from his throat [when Huan had bitten him] upon the trees, and came to Taur-nu-Fuin, and dwelt there, filling it with horror."

The use of two traditional creatures of horror–vampires and werewolves–is uncharacteristic of Tolkien. I don’t know of any place where Tolkien commented further about vampires in Middle-earth.

- Turgon


Yes, I messed up this answer. That’s what I get for trying to answer Q&As after midnight when I should be in bed asleep. Thanks to everyone who wrote in pointing out my error.

Luthien doesn’t quite turn herself into a vampire, but she did take the shape of Thuringwethil, the messenger of Sauron, who flew in the form of a vampire-bat with an iron claw at each joint of its wings.

Here’s the passage from the chapter "Of Beren and Luthien," where Huan and Luthien take the forms of Draugluin and Thuringwethil in passing through Taur-nu-Fuin:

"and he took thence the ghastly wolf-hame of Draugluin, and the bat-fell of Thuringwethil. She was the messenger of Sauron, and she was wont to fly in vampire's form to Angband; and her great fingered wings were bared at each joint's end with an iron claw."

Anthony wrote in with some other pertinent comments:

"There is other mentions of both werewolves and vampires in Silmarillion, though probably not in the manner that we are accustomed from contemporary culture.  When Beren and Finrod are taken captive by Sauron, Finrod's followers were devoured by werewolves (not Sauron).
"Tolkien's werewolves generally do not appear to be shape-shifters; they instead seem to be wolves inhabited by malevolent spirits and thereby altered (see the descriptions of Draugluin and Carcaroth).
"There -is- an account of Luthien at least taking the -form- of a vampire.  She did this by taking Thuringwhethil's 'shaping-cloak'. What sort of creature Thuringwhethil really was isn't known; my guess would be a fallen Maia.  Anyway, the vampires that Tolkien writes of probably have little in common with our present notions."

I think Anthony is complete correct is pointing out that Tolkien’s vampires and werewolves would have little in common with the cinema generated notions we immediately think of today, from Bela Lugosi, Lon Chaney, Jr., to Christopher Lee and others.

- Turgon

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Q: When the Dark Lord of the Nazgûl was killed, where did his ring go? I think he has one of the Nine on a finger, but nothing is said about it after he has been killed by Éowyn!



What happens to one of the Nine rings when its carrier is slain? Does it merely drop to the ground awaiting an unsuspecting mortal to slip it on and fall under the power of Sauron?


A: The question of whether the Nazgûl were wearing their Rings is one of those "Do Balrogs Have Wings" questions that fans enjoy arguing about. The main reason to suppose that they were wearing their Rings is Gandalf's statement to the Council of Elrond, "The Nine the Nazgûl keep."

On the other hand, we read in a letter (#246, 1963) that had Frodo been permitted to claim the Ring on Mount Doom, the Nazgûl would have been sent to take him. "I do not think they could have attacked him with violence, nor laid hold upon him or taken him captive," Tolkien wrote. "They would have obeyed or feigned to obey any minor commands of his that did not interfere with their errand–laid upon them by Sauron, who still through their nine rings (which he held) had primary control of their wills."

Another point to consider is a paragraph in a typescript draft of the Siege of Gondor (found in the History of Middle-earth, "The War of the Ring"):

The Nazgûl came once more, slaves of the Nine Rings, and to each, since now they were utterly subject to his will, their Lord had given again that ring of power that he had used of old.

The fact that Tolkien rejected this version suggests that he decided that this was not the case, perhaps because the demise of the Witch-king would raise the very question that Stefano and Jason ask.

- Ostadan

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Q: I have heard you talk about the leader of the Nazgûl as the Witch-king. I don't recall him being called that in The Lord of the Rings. I also have a poster that calls him the Witch-king as well. Can you clarify why you refer to him that way? Thanks.

–Nic Keuler

A: See the section on "The North-kingdom and the Dúnedain" in Appendix A. Here we are told that the lord of the evil realm of Angmar "was known as the Witch-king, but it was not known until later that he was indeed the chief of the Ringwraiths..." To Denethor, Gandalf describes him as "King of Angmar long ago, Sorcerer, Ringwraith, Lord of the Nazgûl, a spear of terror in the hand of Sauron, shadow of despair." Angmar was defeated in Third Age 1975, and the Witch-king "vanished into the North." (Appendix B)

- Ostadan

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Q: The one question I have deals with when Gandalf fights with the Balrog. As the remaining fellowship arrives in Lothlórien some elves report of "mists and rumblings" coming from deep in the earth. Tolkien does not make it clear whether or not it is Gandalf and the Balrog fighting in the caverns beneath Khazad-dûm, but I think my guess is accurate. Let me know what you guys think.


A: You have connected the dots quite perceptively. We are given a unique account of the fateful battle from two perspectives: first as the elves saw it from a distance, later from Gandalf himself. The Elf in Lothlórien says:

The Dimrill Dale is full of vapour and clouds of smoke, and the mountains are troubled. There are noises in the deeps of the earth.

We don’t really know at this point what is going on. Are the Orcs building some kind of war-machine? Is there a terror beyond the Balrog that is about to assail Lothlórien? Tolkien gives us just a foreshadowing at this point. He plays with the reader’s imagination and pieces it together later in The Two Towers.

- Quickbeam

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Q: In Chapter 2 of The Hobbit, when the fourteen companions are arguing over whether or not to investigate the fire they see ahead (the campfire of the three trolls), they have this to say about the inhabitants of the area they are in: "They have seldom ever heard of the king round here."

I bet you can guess my question: who is this king they are referring to? Or can this be written off as one of JRRT’s "children's book inconsistencies"?


A: At first glance you’d suspect they were referring to the King of Gondor. But at the time of the events in The Hobbit, Minas Tirith was under the authority of the Steward, Ecthelion II. They certainly weren’t talking about Thorin, for at that point he was not yet "King Under the Mountain." There was no certainty that would be either!

I think this added detail was deliberate in Tolkien’s greater design of the history surrounding Bilbo’s journey. At the time The Hobbit was created, he must have also imagined the larger construct of Gondor (the background of the Numenoreans was certainly in his mind at this point), but perhaps had not yet devised the political system that would later support the developments of LOTR, which would come years later.

At the beginning of writing LOTR, Tolkien says he didn’t even know who Strider was, until the point in the story where the four hobbits meet him in The Prancing Pony. This indicates that conceptually the "King of Gondor" that got an offhand mention in The Hobbit had to shift a little bit from a King to a Steward. It seems Tolkien didn’t think it necessary to change that reference when he went back to revising his earlier story.

- Quickbeam


Many sharp readers caught me on the details that I missed in the "Prologue" to the trilogy. It certainly explains the Professor's use of the phrase in The Hobbit. I will now pass the mic over to "inkgirl" who wrote in with this:


First let me say thank you for all the wonderful information and all the work you and your comrades put in on the site. The Q&A that asks about the phrase "not heard of the king." You conjecture it's something atmospheric that Tolkien didn't bother to revise. Actually it's explicitly mentioned in the Prologue, page 21 of my one-volume edition (in "Of the Ordering of the Shire"):

"There remained, of course, the ancient tradition concerning the high king at Fornost, or Norbury as they called it, away north of the Shire. But there had been no king for nearly a thousand years, and even the ruins of Kings' Norbury were covered with grass. Yet the Hobbits still said of wild folk and wicked things (such as trolls) that they had not heard of the king. For they attributed to the king of old all their essential laws; and usually they kept the laws of free will, because they were The Rules (as they said), both ancient and just."



- Quickbeam

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Questions 03/01
Quick navigation for questions asked this month.
 • Is the Necromancer really Sauron?
 • Can you estimate the population of M.E.?
 • Did JRRT create a mythology for the stars?
 • Did JRRT invent mithril?
 • Is Legolas really a blonde?
 • Battle of Six Armies?
 • Why was Merry so much younger?
 • The back-history of Glamdring
 • The decline of peoples after the Fourth Age
 • Were the Falls of Rauros evil?
 • Were there vampires in M.E.?
 • What happened to the Nazgul Rings?
 • Who is the Witch-king?
 • Why are the mountains troubled?
 • Seldom heard of the King


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03/01/05 question three

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