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Q: My question is: Do the Elves have magic powers by themselves, I mean, do they born with them? I'm saying this because Lúthien and Elwing both, by their own powers, get transformed into animals or they do that only because they are daughter and granddaughter of Melian?

–Katlim Ruiz


Q: This question is about Gandalf, and his powers. On Caradhras, he ignites a piece of wood by saying "naur en adraith ammen". Now why would Gandalf (a Maiar and Wizard) have to use the Elvish language to produce magic that seems exclusive only to Maiar? I know he has the Ring of Fire, but that can’t be the only source of his power. Could he have done this without the Ring?


A: Sometimes we need to remind ourselves that Tolkien's view of magic was not the sort of mechanical, rule-based affair of more modern fantasy stories (post-Dungeons and Dragons). It was mysterious in its operation and not necessarily understood by those thought to be telling the tales. When Pippin asks if the elven cloaks they receive are magical, the leader of the Elves says that he does not know what Pippin means by that; to him, what mortals call magic is simply how the world works. So it is difficult to answer these two questions, which both are different aspects of "How does 'magic' work?" To the first question, we know that all Elves have an affinity for (what mortals call) magic. Recall, for example, that "Felagund strove with Sauron in songs of power, and the power of the King was very great." Perhaps some Elves have greater and lesser talents (as we all have), and Lúthien (and Elwing afterwards) had a greater talent for changing her appearance or form (and, at least, the length of her hair). Not much more can be said of this.

Felagund's battle with Sauron in "songs of power" does have its echoes in Gandalf's fire spell as well as his words of command for shutting the door against the Balrog in Moria (and his unsuccessful opening spell at the West-gate). Gandalf could doubtless choose to speak words of command in whatever language he chose; the power is not in the words per se but in the one who is speaking them. Gandalf has assumed bodily form, and for him, the use of language is habitual. In an essay entitled Ósanwe-kenta (Enquiry into the Communication of Thought), Tolkien explains that such habitual use of language, being more precise and clear for Incarnates than direct thought transference, the practice and use of such direct thought transference is dimmed, even (to some degree) among the Valar, if they are habitually clothed in incarnate form. It seems likely that the magical calling forth of power to shape the world operates much the same, and that Gandalf focuses his power better through the use of spoken spells. Sindarin simply may be the language that Gandalf has used the most, in his dealings with the Elves, and so is his language of choice and habit. A couple of thousand years is, after all, quite a lot of time to get into a habit.

The Three were not forged as weapons, but as tools of healing and preservation. Remember Círdan's words to Gandalf, "herewith, maybe, thou shalt rekindle hearts to the valour of old in a world that grows chill." Gandalf's healing of Théoden likely has more to do with the Red Ring of Fire than the fire-spell has.


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Q: Hi! Why were the descendants of Elros not allowed to choose which kindred they could belong to, when the descendants of Elrond where allowed to make this choice??

–Øyvind Bjørnstad

A: In the Akallabêth, we are told that the Valar (by the will of Ilúvatar) "judged that to the sons of Eärendil should be given choice of their own destiny." Because Elros chose to be a king of Men, he and all his descendants are Men. Not every descendant of a Human/Elf pairing is given the choice. Imrahil of Dol Amroth, notwithstanding his apparent Elvish descent (see Chapter 9 of The Return of the King) cannot decide to become an immortal and sail West. Arwen receives special dispensation to make the choice of Lúthien and become mortal.


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Q: In the tale of Aragorn and Arwen, it says that Aragorn stayed at Rivendell for a time. Is it possible that Aragorn was at Rivendell while Bilbo and the dwarves passed through? Thanks for responding. Keep it goin' now, ya hear?

–Son of the Wandering Eye

A: Yes indeed! Though at the time he was a wee lad of only eight years, Aragorn resided in Imladris when Bilbo passed through, T.A. 2941. It is highly doubtful that Bilbo would have any knowledge of him for two big reasons: 1) when the Professor wrote The Hobbit, he had no idea that such a character as Aragorn existed, or would yet come into his future writings; and 2) Aragorn’s true identity and ancestry were hidden from him by Elrond.

We can imagine the scenario of their meeting, in a fanciful way. No doubt Bilbo found it curious that a young Human child was running about in a community of Elves. If they chanced to actually meet, let’s say in the great Hall of Fire, Mr. Baggins would be given a formal introduction to a boy known only as "Estel" (Hope).


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Q: In The Two Towers, while Frodo and Sam are in Ithilien with Faramir, he tells them a poem about Gandalf. One line says that his name was Tharkun to the dwarves. If this is so, then why didn't Thorin, Balin, Dwalin, Oin, Gloin, Fili, Kili, Dori, Nori, Ori, Bifur, Bofur, and Bombur call him Tharkun? Thanks a bunch.

–Wandering Eye of Marqutan

A: This is a good question; after all, the Elves do call him Mithrandir routinely. There are (at least) two possibilities–one is that the Dwarves are known to be quite secretive about their own tongue, and do not speak it lightly to outsiders; we never see the real Dwarvish names for Thorin or the others, only their "outer" names as used in Dale and so on (represented as Old Norse). Thorin & Co. may be reluctant to utter Olorin's Dwarvish name in the presence of Bilbo or anyone else. Or it may be that Thorin & Co., being essentially businessmen operating among the Hobbits and Men of the North, are, in effect, "culturally assimilated" and naturally will use the same name for Gandalf as everyone else does.


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Q: This one's been bugging me for years: when describing the fireworks at Bilbo's farewell party, Tolkien writes that "The dragon passed like an express train..." Now, was that just a rather unsuitable expression that revisal missed? Lobelia's anachronistic umbrella doesn't bother me at all, but this just seems completely off.


A: Yes, that one does stick out like a sore thumb. I tend to agree with you, in that I think that if Tolkien had caught himself on that one, he probably would have altered it.

Tobacco is also (technically) an anachronism, for it was an import to England from America. T. A. Shippey’s Road to Middle-earth has some interesting points on Tolkien’s use of anachronisms.



James T. sent in a further point worth making:

"I just thought you might want to add, for the benefit of those who have not read the Histories, the note that while writing this chapter Tolkien still labored under the later-abandoned notion that this was the first chapter of a _Hobbit_ sequel -- and thus a children's story. Such anachronistic (and "folksy") references to modern life make more sense in a children's story where one is trying to explain things with examples youngsters can understand."

- Turgon

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Q: When Faramir discovers Gollum going after the fish under the waterfall in The Two Towers, he has Frodo go through a big ruse in order to capture Gollum.  But it's made clear that Gollum had no idea about the secret hideout or that Frodo or anyone was nearby.  If Faramir wants to keep the hideout secret, wouldn't it have been easier just to let Gollum catch his fish and leave?  By capturing him, he reveals himself and the hideout to Gollum.  This makes no sense.  Look at the monkey.


A: It seems to come down to a question of whether Gollum really knows about the secret hideout, and is pretending not to know while he spies, or whether he doesn’t know at all and will soon stumble on it. Faramir has to wonder what Gollum might do (and who he might tell) should he discover the hideout and ultimately get away. So, to Faramir in his predicament, the best solution appears to be capturing Gollum, for then by controlling Gollum, he controls what Gollum might do with the knowledge of the hideaway.


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Q: Hi! Gandalf states the "Sauron does not use the Elf Letters". If he doesn’t, than why is the inscription on the One Ring (which he made) fashioned in the Script of Eregion? Just wondering…


A: [Thanks, Turgon, for finding the correct quote!] It is Legolas who makes the remark, when one of Saruman's Orcs is found with the S-Rune on his shield, "Sauron does not use the Elf-runes." The script in the One Ring is in the Tengwar, which Tolkien always translates as "letters"; runes are an entirely different writing system. So Legolas may be, at least, technically correct–Sauron may not use runes at all, only the Tengwar.

More troublesome is Aragorn's remark just before, that Sauron does not "use his right name, nor permit it to be spelt or spoken," when we consider the Lieutenant of the Barad-dûr, who introduces himself as the "Mouth of Sauron" and refers to Sauron by name, or the emissary from Mordor to Erebor who tells Dáin that "Sauron knows that one of these [hobbits] was known to you." Even Aragorn makes mistakes, apparently.


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Q: Hello there, I have a question about money. I don't seem to recall much description of money in JRRT’s work. Lots about treasure, gold, silver, jewels etc. Was there money in Middle-earth? What did folks use to buy things or was it all just trading or using the odd jewel? Thanks,


A: I’ve always found this issue fascinating. Whatever system of "currency" Tolkien had set up in Middle-earth is very sketchy. There is no such thing as formally minted paper money or coins, to be sure. At the end of the story, Bilbo gives a small bag of gold to Samwise, saying it is "the last drop of the Smaug vintage" but we are never told if it is gold coins, nuggets, or ingots.

But still there are times when money seems in common use. There is actually one anachronistic mention of money in The Hobbit, where Bilbo is racing out the door "without a hat, a walking-stick, or any money…" which sets up a picture of the quiet rural Englishman who is flustered to find himself doing such un-Englishmanlike things. We have no literal sense of what this money is. I assume that within the Shire hobbits had a rudimentary system of barter and exchange. It must have included agricultural goods, textiles, crafts, and services at the least. Because of Big Folk travelling across the land, and the Shire’s economic relationship with Bree-landers, it was a system that certainly included gold and silver. In fact, we see the use of silver pennies and pence in Bree. And this suggests a mirror-aspect with rural England that Tolkien was so fond of. Dwarves were the primary contributors to this aspect of Middle-earth. It was generally up to them to find, mine, smith, and procure all items of material worth.

With no universal economic construct, Tolkien made available to his mythology precious metals like gold, silver, and jewels. Obviously, it was needful to give the reader something recognizable as "valuable treasure" or "wealth," as it was a prime motivation for many characters’ exploits. This made the mythology familiar to us, with a sense of antiquity, yet still remote from our current lives. The absence of true money in Middle-earth was part of Tolkien’s deliberate design.


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Q: What can be said of the sister to Thorin, Dis?


A: Not much. She was the mother of Fili and Kili. Dwarf-women had beards, which probably made them less distinguishable from the Dwarf-men, particularly to other races. In some notes Tolkien originally made for the Appendices of The Lord of the Rings (published in The Peoples of Middle-earth), Tolkien noted that Dwarf-women are seldom named in genealogies, and Dis was "named simply because of the gallant death of her sons Fili and Kili in defense of Thorin II."


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Q: Was the Mouth of Sauron born in the Second Age? That's always the impression that I got from reading his description when he is introduced, yet I never understood how he could live for so long without possessing one of the Rings of Power. Did he perhaps have one of the lesser rings that Gandalf spoke of earlier, or was there some other method of prolonging mortal life that the "Mouth" used? I didn't think that was possible because surely the Númenoreans would have discovered it sooner, but it's the only other method with which I can explain his age. Or did I merely read his description wrong, and he is in fact a mortal man of normal life-span? Please help me clear my confusion!


A: No, the Lieutenant of the Tower could not have been born during the Second Age. If that were the case then he’d have been about 3,200 years old during the War of the Ring! We have enough to go on from Tolkien’s text to know better. Look closely at his first introduction to find clues to this character’s lineage:

But it is told that he was a renegade, who came of the race of those that are named the Black Númenoreans.

This does not mean he was literally one of the original corrupted Númenoreans! Rather, this can be taken to mean that he was descended from the Unfaithful Men who fell to the worship of Sauron before the downfall of Númenor.

The Mouth of Sauron may have been wretchedly old by his practice of black sorcery, just maybe, but there’s a limit to what Tolkien would allow. The Professor was particular about the inability of mortal Men to prolong or extend their natural life-span. In his published Letters (No. 131 to Milton Waldman), he states that Men…

… must not … become enamoured of an immortality (within the world), which was against their law, the special doom or gift of Ilúvatar (God), and which their nature could not in fact endure.

He goes on to say that prolonging the natural life span of mortal races becomes an "intolerable torment." Witness what happened to Gollum with the Ring.

You may click here to read some of my previous thoughts on the "Mouth of Sauron."


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Q: At the breaking of the Fellowship, why the heck does Aragorn turn west to pursue Merry and Pippin instead of turning east to recover Frodo and Sam? What good could come of chasing Merry, Pippin and the Orcs? The Orcs are too fast to catch, so a rescue is nearly impossible. And even if they are rescued, it won't help them (or anyone else) for long, if Frodo and Sam are caught.

So if I were Aragorn, my first priority would have been to find Frodo and Sam and help them sneak into Mordor. Merry and Pippin might have valuable information for Saruman, but their capture by Saruman is a much smaller disaster than Frodo being captured by Sauron. All right, maybe just out of kindness I'd send Legolas after the Orcs alone, to try a rescue of Merry and Pippin. He's fast, he's tireless, he could possibly steal two hobbits from a bunch of Orcs. Aragorn and Gimli only slowed him down during the chase. What possible reason could Aragorn have for abandoning Frodo?


A: One can only speculate, but Aragorn might have felt that Merry and Pippin were in immediate danger for their lives (plus, if interrogated, they might give away the Fellowship’s plan), whereas Frodo and Sam might possibly be safe on their own for a short while. Viewed that way, and as a spur of the moment thing, Aragorn’s decision can be seen to make some sense. Perhaps he initially hoped to save Merry and Pippin, and then turn back to rejoin Frodo and Sam. In that situation, it would be a difficult thing simply to give up on Merry and Pippin, while some small hope remained for saving them.



Amy S. wrote in with some good observations: "I looked up this passage in the book, because it just didn't seem right, and the quote from Aragorn is...:

"I will follow the Orcs," he said at last. "I would have guided Frodo to Mordor and gone with him to the end; but if I seek him now in the wilderness, I must abandon the captives to torment and death. My heart speaks clearly at last: the fate of the Bearer is in my hands no longer. The Company has played its part."

"From this statement, it seems clear to me that he feels that for whatever reason - perhaps even unknown to him - his work with the Bearer is done - and has no intention of trying to catch up with Frodo later. 'Fate' has decided for him that his task lies elsewhere, and in the end it all comes out right - Aragorn is right where he needs to be, when he needs to be there."

- Turgon

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Q: Two questions here. Firstly, what rank is higher in Middle-earth?: Lieutenant (e.g: the Mouth of Sauron in Lugbúrz) or Captain (e.g: Grishnákh in Lugbúrz). And now the real question: In LOTR, Grishnákh is described in Appendix A as Captain of the Barad-dûr, and Gorbag and Shagrat are named as the Captains of Minas Morgul and Cirith Ungol, respectively. Now these are just mere Orcs, and they've been put in charge of the armies of Sauron's most valuable cities in Mordor. Why didn't he place the Nazgûl in charge? They were available since before Sauron entered Mordor, and they were certainly much better at commanding respect from the Orcs (see how in the tracker and hunter argument, one is terrified when the other mentions going to the Nazgûl (I can't remember off hand who says it)), and certainly much more disciplined ("but this was no brigand or orc-captain" - The Battle of the Pelennor Fields, RotK) as Sauron 'owned' their minds. So why were they held back from positions of power in Mordor until the War of the Ring ("one of Them's in charge now")? I find it hard to think that Sauron chose Orcs over Nazgûl. Thanks,



Q: Hello, My question is, if Sauron had a power over all the beings under his control, including the Orcs, Easterlings and the men from Harad, how come he could not control the minds of the men of Gondor? What is preventing this from happening?

Gondor and its lands are geographically close to Mordor and Barad-dûr. This, and Gondor's leadership seems to be compromised because the Steward, Denethor II, seems to be under the madness caused by one of the Palantír, and possibly Sauron himself.

–Nazgûl #5

A: For the first question: it is probably a mistake to read too much into terms like "Captain" and "Lieutenant"; they only mean a commander, and a deputy who fills in for a commanding officer, respectively. As for why Orcs and not Nazgûl were in charge of the borders, the question seems to be, "what the heck were the Nazgûl _doing_ all this time, once Sauron was in Mordor?" While we are, of course, on speculative ground here, perhaps one answer lies in the other reader's question, concerning the Easterlings and Haradrim. To answer the immediate question, Sauron did not control the minds of Men as he controlled Orcs (who were basically mindless without Sauron's will behind them); even when he possessed the Ring, he gained control over the Númenoreans only by stealth and guile. So the Men of the South and East must also be "persuaded" to fight on his behalf. These were evidently large and powerful empires, and although not "enlightened" by contact with the Elves and the West, were not intrinsically evil either. What better form of persuasion than to send his most fearsome emissaries, the Nazgûl? We may imagine that they spent some time in the East and South, gaining the allegiance of allies through terror (or false promises of new territories), training troops, and so on.

Incidentally, it seems to me that there is plenty of room for "fan fiction" in the East and South. Remember, not even Tolkien was certain of what became of the two Blue Wizards, but they may have aided whatever resistance against the Shadow was present. There may be some fascinating stories to tell of these lands in the years between the re-occupation of Mordor and the War of the Ring.


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Q: In The Return of the King, Chapter 6, Book 6 ("Many Partings"), Galadriel says to Treebeard, in response to him saying that he thinks they shall never meet again: "Not in Middle-earth, nor until the lands that lie under the wave are lifted up again. Then in the willow-meads of Tasarinan we may meet in the Spring. Farewell!" When she is speaking of the lands that lie under the wave, is she talking about Beleriand? Does she mean that Beleriand will be re-made someday? What is Tasarinan? Thanks!


A: Tasarinan is a Quenya form of the name Nan-Tathren, the Willow Vale at the confluence of the rivers Narog and Sirion. If you look at Treebeard's song in The Two Towers, he refers to several places in Beleriand (he seemingly traveled quite a lot in the old days). Galadriel may be referring to the Elvish belief that there would be an apocalyptic (or Ragnarokian) event at the end of Time, resulting in Arda Renewed, or Arda Unmarred, in which the damage to the world caused by Morgoth's evil would be finally unmade. Tolkien propounded several versions of this myth, probably documented best in "Morgoth's Ring". These writings are among his most religious and philosophical musings, and some may find them tedious.


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Q: What’s the best book to get info about the Nazgûl/Ringwraiths? Will Khamûl appear in the LOTR movie? Do you know about any sites that have pics/drawings that show Khamûl?


A: Unfinished Tales (1980) has a fascinating section called "The Hunt for the Ring," which is subtitled "Of the Journey of the Black Riders according to the account that Gandalf gave to Frodo." This, too, has some information about Khamûl. As to the movie, certainly some of the Ringwraiths will appear in it (I’ve seen some nice stills of Black Riders), but whether their roles will be expanded beyond what’s in the text of the novel I don’t know. And I’m sure there are various artistic renderings of the Nazgûl out there, but Tolkien himself doesn’t give very detailed descriptions, so the artists are left to their own imagination, which doesn’t make for anything definitive–at least as far as I’m concerned. But the various renditions are fun to look at!


Editor’s note: You may want to check out our Site Info section to find links to other sites that feature a variety of galleries and images, especially the archive of "Rolozo Tolkien."

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Q: Why are the various levels of Moria called "Deeps?"


A: A "deep," used as a noun in the English language, is simply "a deep place, as in water or earth." So Tolkien’s usage is quite natural to English. Tolkien also would have known that "deep" comes from Middle English "deepe," and Anglo-Saxon "dype," according to my Webster’s. So the word has a long history in this language.


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Q: I recall that Aragorn, as King Elessar, restores and resides (for a while) at the "North" Kingdom by Lake Evendim. Is there any reference to who governs in the North when Aragorn is in Gondor? And when Aragorn is in the North, can we assume that Faramir, as Steward, assumes greater responsibility in his absence?

The Shire is a "Free Land under the protection of the Northern Sceptre" (Appendix B). Is the Northern Sceptre a reference to the Scepter of Arnor which Aragorn receives from Elrond and does that term have greater significance?


A: I find nothing in the text that suggests a separate ruler was given authority over the reestablished North Kingdom. In fact, one of the most unique qualities of Elessar’s rule was how he extended his reign from Gondor to the far north, including the lost realm of Arnor as part of the "Reunited Kingdom." There is nothing to suggest another guardian was put in governing power over the North during Elessar’s lifetime.

As for Faramir, he was given a remarkable new set of responsibilities when the King turned over Ithilien as his princedom. It would cause him a lot of stress to pack up and leave Emyn Arnen, his wife, and his community, just to baby-sit the White Tower of the Citadel for years at a stretch. But there’s no way of knowing for sure, and as much as I feel that the title of "Steward" was at this point an honorific, it’s probably the most likely result.

And yes, the Northern Sceptre is exactly the one Elrond bestowed to Elessar, symbolizing his reclaimed birthright to Arnor. Tolkien tells us that the Kings of Arnor did not wear a crown, but bore the Sceptre as the Númenoreans did upon a time, as "the chief mark of royalty" (Appendix A, The North Kingdom and the Dúnedain). You can also read my previous Q&A article to learn more about the restoration of the North Kingdom during the Fourth Age.


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Q: In The Fellowship of The Ring, when the Company has finished speaking to Galadriel and Celeborn, they speak about what the Elf-queen tempted them with. Sam wished to be in the Shire with a bit of garden. We can assume that Boromir wished for the Ring. Merry, Gimli and Frodo remained silent though. Any ideas as to what they saw? Thanks for taking the time.


A: I’m afraid I cannot give any reasonable input on this. Truthfully, your assumption of what Boromir was tempted with is as good as my assumptions about the others. Maybe Boromir was tempted to leave the Quest with the promise of future glory and the throne of Gondor. Maybe it was a far more ambitious test of his will, as you suggest. Either way, it is quite telling that the only two who are not challenged by Galadriel’s gaze are the Elf and the Dúnedan. From this encounter we learn something important about Legolas and Aragorn, and their strength of spirit.


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Q: In The Return of the King, when the Mouth of Sauron shows Frodo's sword and mithril coat and offers Gandalf and the others to exchange the prisoners the wizard does not accept. We actually know Frodo and Sam are alright but Gandalf didn't know this. Was he going to let them die? Or else he knew they were alive?


A: This is my take on the dramatic game of words played out before the Morannon. Gandalf and the Mouth of Sauron were playing a game of "stare-me-down." Whoever blinks first is the loser, or rather will give away their strategic weakness to the other. The dark Lieutenant brings out the hobbit’s gear in an attempt to get Gandalf to blink.

In other words, Sauron had precious little information about the spies that had broken through his fences. What was this halfling doing in Cirith Ungol? What were the Lords of the West really up to? This display of the cloak, sword, and mail were a ploy to get some more information about the hobbit’s mission and also to cruelly destroy the morale of the Lords of the West. Gandalf would not truly have let Frodo die, for it was obvious to him in that instant the trickery being attempted. He knew that Sauron did not yet have possession of the One Ring, for in such case all trickery would be moot. Gandalf was playing along (rather convincingly I’ll say) at this crucial point to buy time for the Ringbearer and to assert his presence to Sauron’s emissary.


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Questions 04/01
Quick navigation for questions asked this month.
 • How does magic work in ME?
 • Descendants of Elros can't choose?
 • Did Bilbo ever meet young Aragorn?
 • Dwarven name for Gandalf
 • Express train fireworks?
 • Capturing Gollum makes no sense
 • Why Elf-runes on the One Ring?
 • Show me the money!
 • Tell us of Thorin's sister
 • Was the Mouth of Sauron 3200 years old?
 • Why did Aragorn abandon Frodo?
 • Sauron's military control
 • Will Beleriand rise again?
 • Will Khamul be in the movie?
 • Why are they called Deeps?
 • Who governs the North Kingdom?
 • What did Galadriel tempt them with?
 • Deadly game at the Morannon


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