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Q: I have heard rumors from several different sources that J.R.R. Tolkien wrote an Elvish dictionary and it was published. I have heard claims that one might be able to find and purchase this book, probably from a rare and out-of-print book store, if they are willing to pay a heavy price. Can you please tell me if there is any sign of these rumors being true?

–Lady Katherine DreamWeaver

A: Generally, what you have heard is false. Tolkien's languages were very much a private exercise in linguistic aesthetics, and tied in closely with his mythology. The languages were in a constant state of change as Tolkien's tastes changed throughout his life, and so there was never a "definitive" version of the Elvish languages, nor a published lexicon nor grammar -- nor was there ever intended to be.

However, even false rumors often contain a seed of truth. At various points in the languages' development, he did make word-lists for his own reference (often changing the words even as he wrote them into the lists -- again, these were never any sort of definitive work). The earliest of these, the "Gnomish Lexicon" and "Qenya Lexicon", were published in the 1990s in the journal Parma Eldalamberon (www.eldalamberon.com). At present, they are out of print. Remember, these date from 1920, and so have few details in common with the Sindarin and Quenya seen in The Lord of the Rings. More recently, Parma has published some of the Noldorin word-lists and grammatical notes that JRRT made during the 1920s. Again, these are more interesting as historical documents tracing the development of the language than as reference material.

An important list of Elvish roots, The Etymologies, was published in The History of Middle-earth, Volume V "The Lost Road". It is based on a manuscript (or, rather, hastily-scrawled pages of notes -- it is a miracle that anyone can read Tolkien's most hasty handwriting at all) dating from about the time that The Lord of the Rings was begun, and contains some words that were added during the early writing of the book; but this practice was soon abandoned, alas. Because it is fairly close to the version of Elvish that was used in Lord of the Rings, it is often used as a reference by Elvish scholars, and others concerned with questions about the shape of Elvish ears. There is a Ballantine mass-market paperback edition of "The Lost Road." Amazon shows it as available for its list price of $7 US, so I suppose it to be still in print.

I hope this helps.


PS. A book that was published in the 1970s, and is still in print today, is Ruth Noel's The Languages of Middle-earth, which contains some Elvish word-lists. This is not Tolkien's work, however, and the book has a deservedly bad reputation for its great omissions and misinformation regarding the Elvish languages. The other material in the book not relating to Elvish vocabulary or grammar, however, is pretty decent, if limited.

PPS. If someone tells you that they know of some Terribly Rare Book that can only be found at great expense in the back of certain dusty bookstores, and they cannot cite a publisher, year of publication, exact title, or other important bibliographical information, it is a pretty sure bet that they are just spreading an urban legend. Sometimes the ultimate source of such rumors is itself a work of fiction -- the citing of wholly imaginary works is a technique used by many writers over the years as a corroborative detail intended to add dramatic verisimilitude to an otherwise bald and unconvincing narrative. Antiquarian book dealers routinely must deal with requests for an actual The Red Book of Westmarch, or The Necronomicon of the mad Arab: Abdul Alhazred (in the forbidden Latin translation, of course) -- which do not exist and never have. Or perhaps they don't really get such requests, and that's just another rumor...


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Q: I was reading a creative writing piece that I found in the Green Books that has the One Ring portrayed as having its own will (Temptation by Princess Artemis). That started me thinking. I know that Sauron put some, if not most, of his power into the One Ring. So the Ring has a sort of power over its owners (the drive to put It on, etc.) but does that also mean that Sauron put part of his being/soul into the Ring? If that is the case then the Ring would have its own free will and therefore (since the Maia Sauron put part of his own soul into it) make the Ring a Maia itself – or take the Maia status from Sauron. Or did Sauron just put his power into the Ring?


A: It is written in several places that the Ring has enough will of its own to grow or shrink, to "suddenly slip off a finger where it had been tight," to jam itself onto a finger in answer to a call or command from elsewhere in the room. Insofar as that applies, yes, you might say that Sauron put a part of his "soul" into the Ring–this is borne out by the fact that Sauron was destroyed when the Ring was, and in any case I personally make no distinction between him putting his personal "power" into the Ring and his "soul"–to me they are each of the other. But this will in the Ring has only one direction–to rejoin with the other part of itself, still resident in Sauron. Therefore it could be said that though the Ring is far away from Sauron for most of the story, it is not really separate from him. Certainly it does not have an identity of its own that did not come from Sauron. But one more thing to point out, as my colleague Ostadan deftly answered in another question: there are forces at work far older and more powerful than Sauron’s will, whether encapsulated in the Ring or still within him. Gandalf tells Frodo that Bilbo was "meant" to find the Ring; in which case Frodo was "meant" to have it–and not by the maker (of the Ring). It’s always important to remember, in any story modeled on a Judeo-Christian foundation (as Tolkien’s creation structure certainly was), that the being that is evil was originally created by a being much more powerful–that for every Satan there is a God who created him, and thus for every Sauron there is an Ilúvatar who created him. The creator trumps the created every time.


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Q: I'm curious about the blasting fire of Orthanc. It is used with devastating impact during the siege of Helm's Deep and is clearly quite novel to Aragorn and the Riders of Rohan. Are there any other references to it? Was it merely a mixture of volatile but otherwise naturally occurring substances or a magical concoction of Saruman? Despite the disdain that most of the races in LOTR have towards the weapons of their enemies, why didn't Aragorn and Co. immediately seize upon the Blasting Fire and use it in subsequent battles? Certainly, a weapon of that potency would have been decisive in the assault on the Black Gate.

–Daniel McFarlin

A: You think like a tactician – which is good for a maker of armies. However, it seems to me the "devilry from Orthanc," as Aragorn describes it, is clearly a sorcerous weapon, something originated and executed by the will of Saruman. That would make it impossible for the heroes of the story to utilize it (or even wish to investigate it). Surely it is reminiscent of gun powder or TNT, something that Tolkien seems to suggest ever so slightly. But saying the blasting fire is chemical in origin oversteps the bounds of "a Fairy Story." It may be Tolkien’s sly way of, yet again, representing Saruman as an evil "industrialist" whose horrifying disregard for nature includes destroying fields, forests, living streams and using things like blasting fire to enforce his malicious will against the natural world. That’s how I fancy it, especially when in the chapter "Flotsam and Jetsam" the hobbits recount the death of the Ent named Beechbone. He is burned and destroyed by the spitting fires coming up from the pits of Isengard, obviously a similar force used by Saruman at the Deeping Wall. This is very symbolic to me, showing how far Saruman had gone in his descent to evil – once a Maia spirit, now a destroyer of all things dear to Yavanna herself.


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Q: Hey! I had a question on Sauron’s history and power.  I know in The Return of the King it talks a little about the ancient evil, and Shelob and stuff, but where did Sauron come from originally and how old is he?  He seems to have the same type of power as the Wizard Council, but he is older and his power has been stored in the One Ring.  I am intrigued by the way most stories portray evil magic as a shortcut, yet slightly more powerful than good magic of the same age.  Example: Gandalf has been studying magic for a long time, and he was Sauron's original adversary, yet he couldn't match up to Sauron in a battle?  Was Sauron evilly formed, and if so who were his parents or was he corrupted, like Saruman, and if so by who?  Are Shelob and/or the Balrog one of the first twisted creatures from another evil reign or were they around and evil when Sauron came?

–Geoff Twigg

A: Some of this is hinted at throughout Lord of the Rings – when Aragorn sings a bit of the tale of Lúthien and Beren, he mentions that "In those days the Great Enemy, of whom Sauron of Mordor was but a servant, dwelt in Angband in the North," and briefly describes the war of the Elves to regain the Silmarils.  The beginning of Appendix A elaborates a bit more on this, and concludes "Of these things the full tale, and much else concerning Elves and Men, is told in The Silmarillion."  And indeed, the answers to all of your questions can be found in The Sil.  Some people do not care for its style, at least initially, but it is indispensable if one wants to understand what screenwriters call the "back story" behind Lord of the Rings.

For your specific answers, both Sauron and Gandalf are "Maiar," a kind of angel or supernatural being who are present in Middle-earth's cosmos from its creation.  Sauron's master, Morgoth, is a Satan figure, a fallen archangel (a "Vala").  Sauron was originally in the service of a good Vala, Aulë ("Nothing is evil in the beginning.  Even Sauron was not so," as Gandalf says somewhere), but was corrupted into Morgoth's service early in the world's history.  When Morgoth was defeated at the end of the First Age (over 6000 years before Lord of the Rings takes place), Sauron escaped and decided that he would order Middle-earth to his own liking.  Gandalf was sent, with the other Wizards, to oppose Sauron, about 2000 years before LOTR takes place, but "they were forbidden to match his power with power, or to seek to dominate Elves or Men by force and fear." (LOTR Appendix B)  One reason is that the defeat of Morgoth by the direct power of the other Valar led to the near total destruction of a large portion of Middle-earth, Beleriand, in which the events of The Silmarillion took place.  And as Saruman discovered, the temptation to use Sauron's methods to oppose him merely led to becoming a lesser imitation of Sauron.

The Balrogs were also lesser dark spirits incarnated as demons of fire.  Shelob is the "last child of Ungoliant."  I do not think I will spoil Ungoliant by describing her; she is possibly Tolkien's most wonderfully monstrous creation.


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Q: In most mythology, the immortals do not produce offspring except through rare and unconventional means. It's always the mortals who live, propagate, then die. Tolkien's Elves, however, seem to be described like Men in that they marry and produce offspring routinely, yet they are also immortal. Even with all the wars, I can't see how there are not massive generations of Elves piling up over the thousands of years in the first couple of Ages. Was this population growth problem ever addressed in writings by Tolkien? Have I misread Elven proclivity for marriage and family? Also, maybe this is my human bias, but wouldn't it be a huge burden on the later Elf generations to "live up" to ancestors who are all around them, are still physically their match, but also have thousands of years of experience, training, etc. to go with it?



Hello, I've been reading The Silmarillion and it just hit me how old the Elves really are (or can be). I wonder how old an Elf can be and still become a new 'Dad' or 'Mom' since they are immortal? Could say a 3,000 year-old Elf like Elrond still father a child with say a 25 year-old female Elf? It would certainly put a new kick into the saying "robbing the cradle," don't you think?


Has the Elf "production line" stopped somewhere along the way since they are "fading" from Middle-earth during the FOTR days? Is this why we don't see or hear of any Elf children in LOTR? Who would be the last or youngest of the Elves if this is so?

–Sean: a newbie to LOTR but hooked forever!

A: As Tolkien returned to The Silmarillion upon the completion of Lord of the Rings, he did consider these matters – in part stemming from the matter of Finwë and his remarriage after Míriel's spirit passed to the halls of Mandos – in an essay entitled "Laws and Customs among the Eldar," which appears in "Morgoth's Ring" (History of Middle-earth Volume X). In brief, the Eldar did not reach physical maturity until the age of 50, and full growth was not reached for 100 years after that. They married, usually, in their youth, and had few children, typically fewer than four – Fëanor's seven children were exceptional. The gestation period was one year, "so that the days of [begetting and birth] are the same or nearly so, and it is the day of begetting that is remembered year by year." The Eldar do not beget children throughout their lives, because "the Eldar do indeed grow older, even if slowly: the limit of their lives is the life of Arda, which though long beyond the reckoning of Men is not endless, and ages also." Also, the begetting and bearing of children uses a greater "share and strength of their being" than among mortals – we see here the recurring theme that some deeds (the creation of the Two Trees, for example) can only be performed once. There is much more that could be quoted here, and JRRT certainly changed his mind about some parts later on, but pretty much everything that he had to say on this topic can be found in this essay.


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Q: Galadriel's ring Nenya is described as the "ring of adamant." Does adamant here refer to the legendary stone believed to be impenetrable, or does it mean an extremely hard substance, or does it mean firm in purpose or opinion and unyielding? More important, where can I get one?

–Tom D.

A: "Now these were the Three that had last been made, and they possessed the greatest powers. Narya, Nenya, and Vilya, they were named, the Rings of Fire, and of Water, and of Air, set with ruby and adamant and sapphire…" Thus spake the Silmarillion. Therefore we can assume that "adamant" was the name of the stone in the ring. However, I think the choice was no accident and that Tolkien did indeed intend the wordplay–that the ring was also unyielding in power and purpose. As to where you can get one, if you find out, let me know.



Too many readers to name have written to point out that "adamant" is another name for a diamond.

Well, what did you think we meant when we said "the legendary stone believed to be impenetrable?" J Yes, adamant is the unyielding diamond. Thanks to all who were anxious for the clarification.

As to where you can get one, I had assumed the questioner was speaking rhetorically as to where he could get a ring that would imbue him and his works with adamant personality and strong defense for his homeland. For literalists out there, one company that makes movie replicas of Nenya is here:



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Q: I have a geography question. After Sam & Frodo are rescued from Mount Doom, they awaken in Ithilien and are told that they have been attended by the King, who we know to be Aragorn. When we have last seen Aragorn, he is many miles away before the Black Gates. I assume Sam & Frodo were in need of immediate attention that could not wait for Aragorn to get to them. So is it likely the Eagles first bore them to Aragorn before the Morannon, and then later they were transported to Ithilien?

–Carol & Dick

A: Yes, I think you are correct concerning the movement from place to place, but we don’t really know for sure. It was well established that Aragorn’s healing skill was a distinct hallmark of his royal lineage. Tolkien even gives us a playful bit where Gandalf does not reveal the identity of "the King" so we can enjoy Sam’s astonishment later when he realizes it is good old Strider. The wounds and toil that the hobbits had suffered were severe indeed; and could not wait for another week for Aragorn to tend to them. The wisest course would have been to bring Frodo and Sam to a point of safety outside of Mordor (though maybe not right to the battle plain before the Black Gate where everything was collapsing in havoc). There, Aragorn could wield his healing craft and then off they went with two still unconscious hobbits to the Field of Cormallen.


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Q: Dear Green Books staff, I have been reading & rereading LOTR since 1974. I had always assumed that Éowyn was addressing the winged beast that threatened Théoden's body when she said "Begone, foul dwimmerlaik!" Therefore I thought it was a name for the pterodactyl-like horrors. However The Encyclopaedia of Arda says

"A title of the Lord of the Nazgûl, granted him in defiance by Éowyn in her guise as Dernhelm during the Battle of the Pelennor Fields. Its meaning is not completely certain, but it seems to be derived from the Old English words gedwimer ('sorcery') and líc ('corpse')."

What is thy considered opinion?


A: Éowyn doesn’t stop with "foul dwimmerlaik;" she also spouts off "lord of carrion." The text doesn’t say that the beast was stooping over Théoden or getting ready to do anything to him; actually it says that the beast was busy with Snowmane. Not only that, but the Naz answers Éowyn’s speech. I think we can assume that she was talking to the one who would talk back, not the beast. And though I’m not a linguist, the word roots offered by the Encyclopaedia make sense to me.


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Q: If the Istari/Wizards aren’t allowed to match power for power with Sauron, when the White Council put forth all its strength and drove Sauron from Dol Guldur, how did they do this without matching Sauron strength for strength (I know he planned to flee back to Mordor but, they still must have forced him to, but how without matching strengths) I’d appreciate any thoughts you may have on the matter.


A: Remember that the White Council was a larger entity than just a couple of wizards sitting around mulling over the evils of the world. It was originally created by Galadriel.... and there were other powerful members in the Council like Elrond, Círdan, and other high Elven Lords. Yes, the purpose of the Istari was to give guidance (and in this case it was given by Gandalf to make a military move against the Necromancer), so it is safe to say the Istari were just doing their job as usual. We do not have any descriptive narrative from Tolkien detailing what happened during this campaign against the Shadow, though it would be very interesting indeed!


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Q: Hi. When Gandalf is fighting the Balrog on the bridge he calls him 'flame of Udûn'. I was just wondering who or what is Udûn? Is this another name for Melkor or is it a place-name?


A: Udûn is the Sindarin form of "Utumno," the first stronghold of Melkor in Middle-earth before his confinement by the other Valar. Undoubtedly, many Belryg dwelt there, although it is also possible that Gandalf was using the word more generally, much as we would use the word "Hell." It derives from a root "TUM", meaning "deep," and goes back to the earliest versions of the mythology and languages in 1917. See the entry for "tum" in the Appendix to The Silmarillion (note, the entry erroneously refers to a dale in "Moria" when "Mordor" is obviously intended).


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Q: If a mortal tries to find Valinor and he lands on the Enchanted Isles, what happens to him?


A: Tolkien tells us in The Sil that the Enchanted Isles were set up as a defense against any mariners finding their way to Tol Eressëa and certainly to Valinor beyond. If you were unlucky enough to sail within range of these Isles, you would be lost in the Shadowy Seas, for "all the seas about them were filled with shadows and bewilderment." He is quite clear (and sounds strangely like the Greek poet Homer) when he says that "all that ever set foot upon the islands were there entrapped, and slept until the Change of the World." This is a reference to when the world of Arda would ultimately be made round during the destruction of Númenor, and the Undying Lands removed from the world. I assume that after Valinor was gone from the physical plane of Arda, any sleeping mariners on the Enchanted Isles would wake up and, presumably, find themselves in a very confused state, faced with the challenge of finding their old ships and making their way back home. This is nonsensical speculation, of course.


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Q:   On the way to Minas Tirith Gandalf recounts a song to Pippin about Gondor – something like seven stars and seven stones and one white tree. Now I know he is referring to the palantíri but what are the seven stars and what does it mean by three by three?

–Andrew Stead

A: Not "three by three" but "three times three," the number of ships.  There were nine ships that escaped the Downfall of Númenor (see Appendix A); seven of them each bore one of the seven Seeing-stones.  The Index to LOTR says that the Seven Stars seen on the banner of Gondor originally represented the single stars on the banners of each of the seven ships that bore a Palantír.


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Q: Why were the Three Elven rings made in the first place?  It seems everyone went Ring crazy after this and had to have one.  What were the Elves thinking when they made the rings?  What was the rings’ purpose?


A: The Silmarillion tells in brief of the forging of the Three, and there is an interesting passage: "…in [Eregion] the Noldor desired ever to increase the skill and subtlety of their works. Moreover they were not at peace in their hearts, since they had refused to return into the West, and they desired both to stay in Middle-earth, which indeed they loved, and yet to enjoy the bliss of those that had departed. Therefore they hearkened to Sauron, and they learned of him many things, for his knowledge was great."

This says to me two things about the purpose of the rings: That they were meant to be a testament to the skill and craft of the Elves, and they were meant to provide power for the Elves to shape Middle-earth into a place more like to Aman. Tolkien hints in other places that it is through the power of the Three that Rivendell, Lothlórien, and the Grey Havens are maintained and guarded from evil, and inside them, especially in Lothlórien, we can easily see that the atmosphere and general environment is far more like to the Blessed Realm than anything else in Middle-earth. So we see that though there were good intentions, the desire for power, to have both their choices (both to stay in Middle-earth and still enjoy the blessings of Aman), to have their cake and eat it too, so to speak, started the whole downward spiral of the story of the rings. Sauron saw their desire for power, showed them how they could make it reality and give themselves the ability (through the rings) to shape their world, and then made the One to enslave them all.


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Questions 04/02
Quick navigation for questions asked this month.
 • Is there a real Elvish Dictionary?
 • Did the Ring have its own Will?
 • Explain the blasting fire from Orthanc
 • Give us Sauron's back-history
 • How do the Elves reproduce?
 • Is Galadriel's ring truly Adamant?
 • The Eagles carried the hobbits where?
 • Was Eowyn speaking to the dwimmerlaik?
 • Could the White Council use Power?
 • What does Flame of Udun mean?
 • What happens at the Enchanted Isles?
 • What was Gandalf's song about?
 • Why make the Three Rings at all?


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