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Q: In talking with Frodo, Gandalf says that when Bilbo found the Ring it was "obvious" to him (Gandalf) from the start that Bilbo had found a Great Ring (see "The Shadow of the Past"). The terms "Great Ring" and "Ring of Power" appear to be synonymous. So, Gandalf apparently knew that Bilbo possessed a Ring of Power as early as the end of The Hobbit. Now, if Gandalf knew from the get-go that Bilbo's Ring was a Ring of Power, it seems to me that it shouldn't have taken him decades to figure out which one it was. The Three and the Nine were always accounted for, and the Seven were either held by Sauron or destroyed by dragon-fire (Gandalf seems always to have known this). So, Bilbo's Ring must have been the Master Ring. I can understand why Gandalf would want independent confirmation of this (through his discovery of the fire-writing), but shouldn't he have been working on the assumption that it was in fact the One, and put Bilbo's ass on a pony bound for Rivendell before Frodo was even born? Thanks for your help, and keep up the great site!


A: You make an excellent point and a difficult one to answer. First of all, naturally, is the reason that is outside the scope of the story – the Ring was not selected as the link between The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings until long after The Hobbit was written, so at the end of Hobbit, even if Gandalf "knew" that Bilbo had a Great Ring, he only knew it in hindsight, from the perspective of Lord of the Rings. And Tolkien had a great deal of setup he wanted to do – he didn’t want to just jump into a fast-action story "Oh my God! Your Ring is the One! RUN!" Not his style at all.

But if we must have an answer within the scope of the story, I would surmise that Gandalf was in doubt that he knew of every Ring that had ever been made. Just because there were Nine, Seven, and Three that were embroiled in the fate of the One that he knew about, maybe there were other, slightly lesser rings that might not be of so much importance. Gandalf, as much as I’d like to think otherwise, wasn’t omnipotent. So that’s the best I can do. J


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Q: Quite a bit of time had passed in Middle-earth, right? Thousands of years, and yet we hear or know nothing of any scientific developments. I mean, if you compare it with the real world, we have progressed a lot in only a hundred years. So what I’m trying to say is that why was there no science or scientific developments in M.E.? We know that they had siege engines and all but what about other things? Like, they had bows and arrows; what about crossbows?

–Cuthlaion from Pakistan

A: Tolkien despised modern technology, and thus it is no surprise that his characters concentrated on art and craftsmanship. That is, they looked upon the making of things as an art and practiced it until they were perfected. Rings and jewelry, weaponry, shoes, clothing, even grinding flour in the Shire, they were all gifts. The only technology in the way you’re thinking of was on the side of the enemies–"blasting fire," etc. Might not be realistic, but it is certainly representative of Tolkien’s ideal world. Take a look at my Counterpoint on "Tolkien and Nature" for an elaboration on this view.


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Q: I have a couple questions about the Avari and the Teleri who remained in Middle-earth during the First Age. Firstly, in The Silmarillion Tolkien states that those Elves who did not undertake the westward journey "were sundered in that time from the Eldar, and met never again until many ages were past." Do we know when or where this later meeting occurred? I would assume that those of the Eldar who did not cross into Beleriand would have met the Avari much sooner than several ages later since we know that men had dealings with the Avari after they first arose. Is there any mention of a meeting between Eldar and Avari in any of Tolkien's works?

Secondly, The Noldor who left Aman were thereafter banned from returning until the end of the First Age when the ban was lifted. But during the First Age, where those of Teleri who remained in Beleriand (and others who were still in eastern M.E.) allowed to go to Aman if they could find the means?

–Alexander T. Hirsch

A: The answer to the first question is complicated. Remember, though, that the "Eldar" refer to the three kindreds that undertook the journey to the West; since the Laiquendi are not accounted neither among the Eldar nor among the Avari, we may say that all the Eldar reached Beleriand and had not seen the Avari since they set out to the West. Still, the question arises: did any of the Avari (those who, unlike the Nandor, refused the journey) ever reach Beleriand and so contact the Eldar (which would contradict the line in question)?

While much of the "Silmarillion" paragraph in question is derived from versions of the tale that pre-date Lord of the Rings, I cannot find, anywhere in The History of Middle-earth volumes, the point at which the passage about "met never again..." appeared. It must be a quite late addition, however: in an essay called "Quendi and Eldar", which dates to the late 1950s, Tolkien indicates that some Avari did reach Beleriand; yet in "On Dwarves and Men", dating from the late 1960s, it is said that "it is doubtful if any of the Avari ever reached Beleriand". So it does appear that JRRT decided, quite late, that the Avari and Eldar did not come into contact again until the end of the First Age, when the Elves of Beleriand went to live among the Silvan Elves (at least some of whom were Avari) in Greenwood/Mirkwood and Lórien.

As for the second part, it is never said that the original invitation to all the elves -- even the Avari -- was ever revoked. Indeed, recall the remark in Appendix F: "In the hearts of the Grey-elves [the yearning for the Sea] slumbered, but once awakened it could not be appeased." While this is most directly a reference to Legolas's newly awakened desire for the Sea (and, by implication, the True West), it would apply equally to all his people.


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Q: First off, I just wanted to voice that this an excellent site--a wealth of knowledge and discourse on this subject is much warranted and appreciated. Second, my question centers on the character of Elrond. Considering that it is true that he and both of his parents were Half-elven, why is it so that he has such a vocalized disdain and at times holds contempt for the race of Men? Since he did choose to be counted amongst the Elves after the Fall of Gondolin, is it logical to assume that he values his Elvish heritage as more important? Could it be that he as simply lost his faith in Men after the Downfall of Númenor? Elrond was indeed a gifted and wise leader of an Elven people and a Ring-bearer. Thus should he not have a more balanced view concerning Men? Can the Elves’ reclusive nature concerning their people be considered uncaring, or does it border more on xenophobia? Can a line be drawn between the two? Again, wonderful site!

–Dave DiMascio

A: First, one small thing: Elrond was Half-elven, and so apparently was Eärendil, but Elwing was about three-quarters Elven – her father was Half-elven but her mother, Nimloth, was an Elf. At any rate, your question is an excellent one, but I don’t remember Elrond showing nearly as much contempt for Men in the books as he did in the movie. That being said, if he did harbor such contempt, I would speculate that 1) he knew a Man had designs on his daughter and would be the means of separating them forever; 2) yes, he knew the weakness of Men, having witnessed Isildur’s refusal to destroy the Ring and everything else; but 3) I would say it was less contempt than an awareness that the time of Elves was passing and the dominion of Men was at hand. He was trying to give way and allow that transition to be made.


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Q: I know that Dior was the first of the "peredhil," or Half-elven, but what happened when he died? Was he considered an Elf or a Man? Did he go to Valinor? It seems to me that he was considered an Elf since he took an Elven wife and returned to Doriath to rule. Also, he received the Silmaril and must have touched it and it is not mentioned that the jewel burned him, so he couldn't have been mortal right? No mortal hand, well except Beren, could touch a Silmaril. I am just very confused on this subject. Thanks,


A: Remember that Dior actually had three blood lines in him: Elf, Man, and indeed Maiar (his grandmother was Melian). Tolkien seems to state clearly in his Letters, that each individual with a combined ancestry had to make a choice. In Letter No. 153 he says:

The view is that the Half-elven have a power of (irrevocable) choice, which may be delayed but not permanently, which kin’s fate they will share.

Dior certainly chose to be an Elf, becoming a great King of his kindred; and we learn in The Silmarillion that he died at the hands of Celegorm and the Sons of Fëanor. Tolkien says of this tragic battle: "and so befell the second slaying of Elf by Elf."


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Q: Hello Green Books Staff, I have a few questions concerning the Downfall of Númenor and the Númenórean Exiles. It is stated that Elendil, with the remnant of the Faithful, set sail with nine ships to Middle-earth after the destruction of Númenor. There Elendil founded Arnor and Gondor. Around the same time he started building many of the great towers. How can he do all this? How many people could you fit on nine ships? Surely there were some outpost settlements in Middle-earth made by Númenóreans, but would they not have been emptied and sent to Númenor for the attack on Valinor? I don’t understand where all the people are coming from to create kingdoms and build strong towers. And in a period of 60 or 70 years they have enough people to make a great army and defend themselves (along with Elves of Lindon) against a very great and powerful Sauron with his One Ring? I just don’t understand how there can be enough people in the kingdoms of Arnor and Gondor. Also, was the Númenórean army outnumbered by their Elf allies led by Gil-galad?

–Adam Park

A: A good summation, but you left out one important point: There were Men in Middle-earth when the nine ships got there. True, Tolkien describes them as "wild men," but I have no doubt that many of them (excluding, of course, the fathers of the Easterlings and Southrons, men of Harad, Corsairs of Umbar, etc.) allied with the Faithful and/or were ruled by them. Remember that at the time of the events in Lord of the Rings, Denethor and others are lamenting that "the blood of Númenor is mingled with that of lesser men" and even that that blood does not run true in Boromir while it does almost completely in Faramir. There must have been "lesser men" there for the Faithful to mingle with, and it’s pretty hard to "found kingdoms" if you’ve nobody to rule.

So by allying with these men, setting up their kingdoms, and procreating, 60 or 70 years later they would have a lot of men in their twenties, able-bodied for fighting. Might be a compressed cycle, but it still seems possible to me.


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Q: Does the eagle brooch with the green stone given to Aragorn by Arwen (via Galadriel) have a name?

–Graeme Anthony

A: The brooch may not have had a unique name, but it was from the gift of it that Aragorn derived "the name that was foretold" for him, Elessar, the Elfstone of the House of Elendil.

In other words, if it has a name, it is the Elfstone or Elessar.


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Q: If The Maiar are ageless, and can choose the form that they take, why do both Gandalf and Saruman choose to portray themselves as old men rather than valiant warriors?

–Mike Dillon

A: The short answer is that the Istari did NOT have a choice in this matter. Manwë and the other Valar made the decision that these chose Istari would go to Middle-earth in the guise of old men. Looking in Unfinished Tales there is an interesting note that says:

Who would go? For they must be mighty, peers of Sauron, but must forgo might, and clothe themselves in flesh so as to treat on equality and win the trust of Elves and Men.


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Q: Is there any mention of Mordor in any other Age before the Second and Third Ages? Was Mordor part of Beleriand before it sank, or was it created after? Or possibly during the War of Wrath? As far as a fortress goes, in your opinion how does Barad-dûr stack up in comparison with Angband, or Utumno? Also, if Middle-earth was a prehistoric Europe, where on the map does Mordor fit? I'm thinking maybe Transylvania or something. What are your thoughts? Thanks for your time.


A: Sauron founded the land of Mordor during the very first millennium of the Second Age. It was never part of the regions of Beleriand (it was of course much further to the East). The first time Tolkien places Mordor on any map is after the War of Wrath, wherein much of Middle-earth’s geography was dramatically altered. Also, it is a mistake to think the land was "created" by Sauron in any sense. It was just a protected region where he settled after the downfall of Angband (we have evidence from Tolkien that the mountain of fire, Orodruin, was the main reason Sauron chose to take up living quarters in Mordor).

Mordor was very well placed with its proximity to the Great River and the lands of Gondor; and certainly it had all the natural fortification it needed with the mountain ranges on three sides: north, west, and south. But Barad-dûr was no Angband, that’s for sure. Even at its height of power, this newer Dark Tower was not as impressive as the vaster, darker, and unbreakable fortress of Morgoth behind the great peaks of Thangorodrim, if you ask me. As for where the region of Mordor might match up with Europe – if you were doing a "geographical overlay?" Well, that I will leave to your own fancy, as I have no opinion one way or the other.


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Q: Sauron never ever suspects that someone would try to destroy the Ring. I know that Gandalf explains this at the Council of Elrond, by saying that it simply never crosses his mind because of his "narrow vision" and because of the "folly" of the Plan, but I still find it hard to believe. Sauron has so many pointers: He knows that a Halfling is carrying the Ring (first from Gollum and then certainly from the Nazgûl after they attack the Hobbits at Weathertop), he knows that the Halflings live really far away from Mordor, and he must know, that at least one of them has entered his Realm. After all, the Mouth of Sauron even presents Frodo's mithril-coat and sword to Gandalf and describes the Hobbit’s stature. Sauron must be really stupid to not even consider the possibility that this Halfling could be the one carrying the Ring and that he intends to destroy it. Or perhaps challenge his power directly, if the thought that someone would want to destroy the Ring really is that far off. Is there anything that could make this more plausible?


A: Yes, Sauron was really that "stupid." The nature of the Ring was such that it was literally inconceivable to him that anyone would attempt to destroy it. Plus, by the time the Orcs had captured the hobbit "spies" (and spies are something Sauron could understand better than sacrifice at Mount Doom), Aragorn had already revealed himself to Sauron as the heir of Isildur, and Sauron thought it likely that Aragorn had taken the Ring (the Nazgûl had already reported on Aragorn accompanying Frodo) and intended to use it against Mordor.

And, after all, he was right not to worry about someone attempting to destroy the Ring – Frodo was, at last, not able to cast the Ring into Mount Doom, and it is unlikely that anyone else would have been able to bear it so far. It was only through Providence (for which Frodo and Sam had prepared the way by their mercy in sparing Gollum) that the Quest could be achieved.

A discussion of "motives in The Silmarillion" (from "Morgoth's Ring," History of Middle-earth Vol. X) has an interesting sentence that may shed some light on this subject. Discussing Sauron's perception of Saruman and Gandalf, he says that Sauron supposed that Manwë's motives in sending the Istari were similar to his own, i.e., a power play. "His cynicism.... seemed fully justified in Saruman. Gandalf he did not understand. But certainly he had already become evil, and therefore stupid, enough to imagine that his different behaviour was due simply to weaker intelligence and lack of a firm masterful purpose." The phrase "evil, and therefore stupid" speaks volumes for Tolkien's characterization of Sauron. Sauron had become literally unable to understand Good.


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Q: Dear Green Books, how could there be nine Dúnedain kings in Middle-earth when Elendil apparently came from Númenor, then he had two sons, etc.? Then Elendil and Isildur were both killed without mention of becoming Nazgûl? Were all nine Nazgûl from Arnor?

–Kaz Huddart

A: If you read the Tale of Years for the Second Age (Appendix B), you will observe that the Nazgûl entered the tale in about 2251 of the Second Age, over a thousand years before the time of Elendil; the kingdoms of Gondor and Arnor did not exist. At this time, the Númenóreans had begun colonizing Middle-earth for the past few centuries. From the Akallabêth: "Great harbours and strong towers they made, and there many of them took up their abode; but they appeared now rather as lords and masters and gatherers of tribute than as helpers and teachers." In discussing the rise of Sauron, the Akallabêth later says, "it is said that among those whom [Sauron] ensnared with the Nine Rings three were great lords of Númenórean race." We may conjecture that these lords had been the equivalent to 'territorial governors' of these new Númenórean settlements.

Other men lived in the west of Middle-earth at the time, and some (such as the men of Minhiriath, who "became bitter enemies of the Númenóreans, because of their ruthless treatment and their devastation of the forests. ... their survivors were ... the Dunlendings." [Of Dwarves and Men, in History of Middle-earth Vol. XII]) may have had leaders who were useful in Sauron's plans, and so were brought under the Shadow by the gift of a Ring. Finally, it is likely that men of the East, who had long since fallen under the Shadow of Morgoth in ancient times, received at least one of the Nine: in the story of the search for the Ring, the second Nazgûl in command is called "Khamûl the Easterling," suggesting such an origin. He is, incidentally, the only of the Nine known to be named in any of Tolkien's writing, remembering (as some do not) that "The Witch-king of Angmar" is not a name.


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Q: What happened to Nerdanel (Fëanor’s wife) when he sailed to Middle-earth? Did she stay in Valinor? Did she perish on board the ship? Did Fëanor leave her behind (very unlikely)?

–Clara Adams

A: The Silmarillion says of Nerdanel that 'his later deeds grieved her, and they became estranged'. This passage was derived from Tolkien's later Quenta Silmarillion (documented in "Morgoth's Ring," History of Middle-earth Vol. X). The text in "Morgoth's Ring" was apparently also the source for the chapter "Of the Silmarils" in the published Silmarillion; whether the briefer version that was published is the result of Christopher Tolkien's editing or J.R.R. Tolkien's, I cannot say. But when Fëanor departs Valmar with his sons, we are told that "Nerdanel would not go with him, and she asked leave to abide with Indis, whom she had ever esteemed, though this had been little to the liking of Fëanor." So, Fëanor left her behind; but this is because she'd already dumped him, as we say in Middle-earth.


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Q: I know that the very desire of the Ring corrupted you and that possessing it would make you just like Sauron. However, what if the Balrog had taken the Ring? It was already a spirit of flame and a lesser degree of Sauron and he kind of had the lordship of Moria under him. What do the wise have to say on this matter of "what if?"

–Ancalagon the Black

A: We’ve taken a look at this question just two months past, when someone asked me "What if I claimed the Ring?" At that time I was speaking about a simple mortal human attempting to use it. But in this case we are assuming "What if that pesky Balrog grabbed it?" If you ask me to speculate wildly I will.... also offering the caveat that my musings are certainly no better an "informed opinion" than any other. J

I think such a situation would certainly be just as bad as if Sauron himself had reclaimed it. I doubt very much the demon would simply return the Ring, like an overdue library book. Though the Balrog took shape in animalistic, demon form, it was still a Maiar being – just like Sauron himself. Such an innately powerful being would, upon taking up the Ring, immediately become far more powerful and devastating than it could ever have done otherwise. Sauron might, just maybe, attempt to challenge the creature to get his Ring back (perhaps if the Balrog revealed itself too soon) and then events would turn very sour indeed. The Balrog on his own might challenge Barad-dûr with a military campaign.... but I think it more likely Sauron would storm the stronghold of Moria with his own armies. Sauron might play things a little bit smoother and attempt to ally himself with the Balrog, only pretending to be obeisant. Thus being patient and cunning, he might eventually find some means to get back the Ring, especially if the Ring betrayed the Balrog to find its own way back to Sauron’s hand. Either way, the Free Peoples would be caught in the middle of all this mess. They would certainly suffer a great deal if the two dark powers struggled for dominance. One Dark Lord would eventually arise to be the new Enemy; and that victor, in the end, would bring life and freedom to a screeching halt in Middle-earth.


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Q: Suilad, you guys are doing a great job! In LOTR I hear a mention of tea and I think sugar. Well I know that tea requires warm climates; for I belong to the Indian subcontinent. The realms of Middle-earth were based on the temperatures that prevailed in Europe – or England to be more precise (as Tolkien had planned). So where would our dear hobbits get their tea from? Did they trade with the south (it is mentioned that it is hot there) or were there other means by which they procured tea?

–Beleg Cuthlaion from Pakistan

A: Well, I don’t think this question stops with just tea. Tolkien wrote of some plants and foods that were meant to be distinctly English, giving Middle-earth the impression of "the familiar world" while we find other produce that was incongruous with this same world. What about corn, apples, and tobacco? The issue of agriculture in Middle-earth gets a bit tangled, I’m afraid. The matter is further confused by the FOTR film where we see Pippin and Merry cooking tomatoes up on Weathertop ("That’s nice! Ash in my tomatoes!") – when Tolkien himself never once mentioned tomatoes in the story. So did they exist in Middle-earth? Did regular tea and tobacco, even, exist in this Northern European-based fictional world or did the author just stick them in there? There is a discussion of "cold chicken and pickles" in The Annotated Hobbit where Douglas Anderson talks about Gandalf’s request. The wizard originally asked for tomatoes but Tolkien later changed it to pickles:

This revision brings up the question as to why it should matter whether Bilbo’s larder was stocked with tomatoes or pickles. Tom Shippey, in The Road to Middle-earth, suggests that as Tolkien wrote the sequel to The Hobbit, and as he came to perceive the hobbits and their land as characteristically English in nature, he recognized tomatoes as foreign in origin and in name. They were imports from America, like potatoes and tobacco, which were quickly adopted in England. Though Tolkien does use the word tobacco in The Hobbit a handful of times, it is strictly avoided in The Lord of the Rings, where pipeweed is used. There, as well, potatoes are given the more rustic name taters. Tomatoes were thus out of place in the Shire as Tolkien came to perceive it.

That settles that. No tomatoes. Now what about tea? I think the answer lies in Tolkien’s fictionalization of tobacco, where the author created a proxy for the plant. It seems there was no actual tobacco per se, just his Middle-earth version of tobacco. The plant that came from Númenor was galenas; as Tolkien decided it should be "imported" to Middle-earth and grown in Gondor. It grew in the south of Gondor easily enough but up in the Shire it was carefully handled to survive the climate. Though I have no mind for farming, I would venture a guess that tea had a similar back-history. It probably originated elsewhere (maybe Gondor or further beyond) and was brought up the Greenway. If the clever hobbit farmers of the Shire grew any tea plants similar to the tea of our modern world, lucky them. It seems a rather tricky thing for Tolkien to balance: keeping familiar, English elements associated the hobbits and having to explain at great length (in the case of pipeweed) how these items came to be in the fictional world of Middle-earth.


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Questions 11/02
Quick navigation for questions asked this month.
 • Gandalf's foreknowledge of the One Ring?
 • Any scientific progress in M.E.?
 • Did the earliest Elves meet again?
 • Does Elrond hate the race of Men?
 • How did Dior choose his fate?
 • How were the Numenorean Exiles so populous?
 • Is the brooch called "Elfstone?"
 • Why were the Istari old grey men?
 • Tell us the origins of Mordor
 • Was Sauron really that stupid?
 • Were all 9 Nazgul from the North Kingdom?
 • What happened to Feanor's wife?
 • What if the Balrog claimed the Ring?
 • Where did the hobbits get TEA from?


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