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Tolkien Newsgroups FAQ

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                         TOLKIEN NEWSGROUPS FAQ

               Copyright (C) 1999-2006 by Steuard Jensen

                         (Created 17 Aug 1999)
                       (Last updated 18 Mar 2006)

   For many years, the Tolkien Usenet newsgroups have been home to a
pair of excellent Frequently Asked Questions lists about Tolkien and
Middle-earth, compiled by William D. B. Loos.  These sources contain a
wealth of information, but are no longer maintained (the last update
seems to have been in July 1996).  This means that quite a few issues
of current interest to the groups are not fully addressed in those

   This FAQ supplements, updates, and expands on the earlier ones,
though it is not meant to replace them entirely.  It includes new and
corrected information on some of the old discussions, numerous entries
on topics not covered in the older FAQs, and a broad discussion of the
Tolkien newsgroups and common standards of netiquette.  This FAQ is
intended both as an introduction for newcomers to the newsgroups and as
a source of information for anyone exploring Middle-earth.

   The official HTML version of the FAQ is on the web at


The plain text version is posted to Usenet on the 22nd of each month
and is also available on the web, at


For a unified and easy to use interface to this FAQ, the Loos FAQs, and
others, consider visiting the Tolkien Meta-FAQ, at


   I would like to give my sincere thanks to the many, many people on
the newsgroups and elsewhere who have given criticism, suggestions, and
encouragement as I wrote this FAQ.  This project would never have
succeeded without their wonderful support.

					Steuard Jensen

                           Table of Contents

Sections/questions marked: * have been revised since the last release
                           ** are new since the last release

  I. Changes Since the Last Release *

 II. Newsgroups and Netiquette

   A. Information on the Tolkien Newsgroups
     1. What newsgroups are we talking about again?
     2. Why are there two groups?
     3. Do I have to have a Ph.D. in Tolkienology to post?
     4. What questions and topics are appropriate?
     5. What does a tilde (~) in the subject mean?  and
	 Is it acceptable to post messages with sexual content?
     6. What common mistakes should I try to avoid?
     7. What do all the abbreviations used on the groups mean?

   B. The Basics of Netiquette
     1. What is the proper subject line for my post?
     2. What should I do when replying to an earlier article?
	 For example, should I "top post" or "bottom post"?
     3. When should I "cross-post" to multiple newsgroups?
     4. I am able to post my messages with HTML formatting.  Should I?
     5. If someone insults me or otherwise makes me upset, should I
	 flame	them back?
     6. Even if my reputation and honor are at stake?
     7. Where can I go for more information on netiquette, and on
	 Usenet in  general?

III. Debates and Discussion

   A. Story External Questions
     1. What is the best order in which to read the books?
     2. What books about Middle-earth are considered "canonical"?
     3. How does /The Silmarillion/ as published differ from  what
	 Tolkien intended?
     4. Which are "The Two Towers"?
     5. Which books /about/ Tolkien are good, and which aren't? *
     6. Is Middle-earth Medieval?
     7. Was Tolkien racist?  Were his works?
     8. Are there electronic versions of Tolkien's books?
     9. Where can I report copyright violations that I observe?

   B. Story Internal Questions: Creatures and Characters
     1. Did Balrogs have wings?
     2. Could Balrogs fly?
     3. What was Tom Bombadil?
     4. Did Elves have pointed ears?
     5. Did Elves have beards?
     6. What happened to Elves after they died?
     7. Was Glorfindel of Rivendell the same as Glorfindel of Gondolin?
     8. Who was Gil-galad's father?
     9. Did Dwarf women have beards?
     10. Was there "telepathy" in Middle-earth?
     11. Did Sauron have a physical form during /The Lord of the 
     12. What were the names of the Nazgul?
     13. What was Gothmog (the lieutenant of Morgul)?
     14. What was the origin of Orcs?
     15. Were Orcs immortal, and what happened to them after death?
     16. What was the relationship between Orcs and Goblins?
     17. What was the origin of Saruman's Uruk-hai?
     18. What was the origin of Trolls?
     19. What were the giants (seen by Bilbo in /The Hobbit/)?

   C. Story Internal Questions: History and Happenings
     1. Why didn't they just have an Eagle fly the Ring to Mt. Doom?
     2. Were the barrow blades magical?  In what way? *
     3. Why didn't the Nazgul take the Ring at Weathertop? *
     4. Who killed the Witch-king, Merry or Eowyn? *
     5. Did Frodo and the other mortals who passed over the Sea
	 eventually  die?
     6. Did Sam follow Frodo into the West?
     7. What is known about the Blue Wizards?
     8. Who was aware that a Balrog lived in Moria?
     9. Did Elves and Dwarves generally get along?
     10. Where was the Ring when Numenor was destroyed?
     11. Who was the oldest inhabitant of Middle-earth?

 IV. External Resources

   A. Where else can I find general information about Middle-earth?
     1. The Tolkien Meta-FAQ
     2. The Tolkien FAQ and LessFAQ
     3. The "FAQ of the Rings"
     4. The Letters FAQ
     5. Google's Usenet archive

   B. Where can I learn more about Tolkien's languages?

   C. Stories of Middle-earth in many forms
     1. What editions of Tolkien's books in the US are best?
     2. What audio versions of Tolkien's books are available?
     3. What is the groups' view of the recent /Lord of the  Rings/
     4. Where can I find out about music related to Middle-earth?



   I have incorporated some fantastic material from Hammond and Scull's
/Reader's Companion/ into all three questions relating to the barrow
blades.  I now view at least the first two of those questions to be
definitively settled, and I have rephrased the entries accordingly.  I
have also added the book to the list of recommended secondary works,
with an explanation there that is probably too long.

   Also, I have changed the text style that I use to represent emphasis
or italics (as in book titles): where I previously used "_" in such
cases, I now use "/".  Neither is perfect, but "_" has a tendency to
confuse search engines.  I still use "_" for literal underlining in a
couple of places (sometimes used for a title within a title).



   When discussing Tolkien (or anything else) online, it is important
to know at least a little about the "culture" of the discussion forum
that you are participating in.  The information in this section is
intended to give an idea of "appropriate" behavior on the Tolkien
Usenet newsgroups.  To make our discussions as enjoyable as possible,
every participant should try to be familiar with what follows.



1. What newsgroups are we talking about again?

   There are several Usenet newsgroups specific to Tolkien and his
works.  However, the two most widely read and distributed of these are
rec.arts.books.tolkien and, commonly abbreviated either
r.a.b.t or RABT and a.f.t or AFT, respectively.

   The official rec.arts.books.tolkien charter can be found at

 does not have a formal charter.

2. Why are there two groups?

   Originally, AFT was the only Tolkien newsgroup on Usenet.  RABT was
created (when the approval vote passed on 26 Mar 1993) as a replacement
for AFT which would be carried by a larger fraction of news servers. 
However, AFT was never removed, and both groups currently enjoy
substantial readership.  While only RABT has a formal charter (see
question II.A.1 for reference), the two groups are virtually identical
in intended content.

   Many participants see a tendency for RABT to be somewhat more
"scholarly" in tone while AFT is a bit more "conversational", and some
suggest that this distinction is useful and should be encouraged. 
Other participants draw less of a distinction between the two groups,
and often believe that a difference in focus would be both undesirable
and impossible to achieve.  In practice, everyone decides for
themselves how they want to treat the two groups, and most people
generally don't complain one way or the other.

3. Do I have to have a Ph.D. in Tolkienology to post?

   By no means!  People with any amount of Tolkien "lore" are welcome
to participate.  It is advisable, however, to have read /The Hobbit/
and /The Lord of the Rings/ before spending much time here, as
otherwise you run the risk of many, many spoilers for both books.

   When you do participate in discussions, just use whatever Tolkien
knowledge you have: you can have great ideas regardless of how much
you've read.  Occasionally, others will cite sources (often obscure but
just as often authoritative) that weaken or disprove your arguments. 
When this happens (as it does to every one of us), nobody will think
less of you for not knowing the reference; treat it as a chance to
learn something new about Middle-earth.

4. What questions and topics are appropriate?

   Virtually any topic related (even distantly) to Tolkien and his
works is fair game.  If you post a purely "factual" question (like "How
many Ringwraiths were there?"), it's a good idea to explain why you're
asking: we periodically see questions from students who hope we will do
their homework for them, and the last thing we want to do is help
people to avoid reading the books!

   It is appreciated if articles that have absolutely nothing to do
with Tolkien have subject lines beginning with "OT:" ("Off Topic"). The
Tolkien newsgroups are a sufficiently social community that threads
often do drift away from their initial topics, and while this should
not be discouraged, it is polite to label it when it happens.  On the
other hand, off topic discussions that get too intense or go on too
long can interfere with others' enjoyment of the groups, and should be

   Binary files, such as images or sounds, are NEVER appropriate in a
non-binaries newsgroup.  To share a binary file with people in the
Tolkien groups, you have two main options.  One is to find an
appropriate newsgroup in the alt.binaries.* hierarchy, post the file
there, and then post a message here telling us where to look.  Another
(more common) method is to put the file on the Web and post the URL on
the newsgroups.

5. What does a tilde (~) in the subject mean?  and
   Is it acceptable to post messages with sexual content?

   Articles posted to these newsgroups occasionally contain comments
that some consider inappropriate for younger readers.  After much
discussion, most participants agreed to mark messages with /sexual/
content with a tilde in the subject line. Individuals can then create
killfiles to screen out such messages as desired. While not everyone
agrees that such a system is beneficial, following this convention is
the polite thing to do.  The newsgroup charter recommends the use of
ROT-13 "encryption" for this purpose, but this has become less common.

6. What common mistakes should I try to avoid?

   By and large, the participants in the Tolkien newsgroups try to
judge others based on their ideas rather than on details of grammar and
posting style.  However, there are a few types of simple mistakes that
tend to cause some level of bias and annoyance among many group
members, which in turn can distract them from your real message.  Most
of these are covered in the "Netiquette" section below.

   One common mistake of this type that is not related to netiquette is
confusing the singular and plural forms of common Elvish words.  On the
Tolkien newsgroups, these words are so familiar that the phrase "Manwe
is a Valar" sounds just as jarring and strange as "Finrod is an Elves."
 To reduce this problem, a list of some of the most commonly confused
singular/plural pairs is given below.  Note the patterns!

Singular: Vala   Maia   Elda   Noldo   Sinda   Teler   Istar   Adan
Plural:   Valar  Maiar  Eldar  Noldor  Sindar  Teleri  Istari  Edain

   Another issue that arises periodically is whether or not /The Lord
of the Rings/ should be referred to as a "trilogy".  Tolkien said quite
clearly in Letter #165 that "The book is /not/ of course a 'trilogy'",
and some people make a point of correcting those who use the term. 
However, in Letter #252, Tolkien himself refers to "my trilogy", so
most of us agree that using the term is an acceptable shorthand, if
nothing else.

7. What do all the abbreviations used on the groups mean?

[More abbreviations can be found in section IV of the Tolkien FAQ.]

   Some names and phrases come up so frequently on the Tolkien
newsgroups that they are often abbreviated for convenience.  A few of
the very most common are defined below; these definitions are excerpted
from Sir Confused-a-Lot's old AFT Glossary, which sadly appears to have
gone offline.

JRRT:  John Ronald Reuel Tolkien
ME:    Middle-earth
LotR:  _The Lord of the Rings_
FotR:  _The Fellowship of the Ring_
TT:    _The Two Towers_
RotK:  _The Return of the King_
Silm.: _The Silmarillion_
UT:    _Unfinished Tales_
HoMe:  the "History of Middle-earth" series
Letters: _The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien_
Narn:  The "Narn I Hin Hurin" in UT
Athrabeth: The "Athrabeth Finrod Ah Andreth" in /Morgoth's Ring/

NG:    Newsgroup
TEUNC: "Tolkien Eccentric Unusual Nut Cases", an eGroup of
       Tolkien fans, some of whom frequent the newsgroups
LOL:   Laughing Out Loud
ROTFL: Rolling On The Floor Laughing



1. What is the proper subject line for my post?

   Make sure that the "Subject:" line of your post matches the topic
that you are discussing.  Be concise, but specific: subject lines such
as "The Lord of the Rings" or "Tolkien" give no useful information
about the contents of your post.  Note that this does not only apply to
the first post in a thread: if you see that the subject line no longer
matches the topic of a thread, change it when you reply!  Also, follow
the "OT:" convention for off-topic posts (mentioned in question II.A.4

   When you do change the subject line, it is polite to indicate the
subject of the previous post.  For example, "Balrog Wings" might become
"Balrog Flight (was Balrog Wings)" and then "Eagles (was Balrog
Flight)". This helps people follow the history of the thread.

2. What should I do when replying to an earlier article?
   For example, should I "top post" or "bottom post"?

   First and foremost, make sure to retain the attribution of any
quoted text, so others know who said the things you are replying to. 
Almost equally important, make sure that you trim the previous post as
much as possible:

   * If you are replying to one specific comment in the previous
      article, delete all of the previous text except that comment.  If
      the comment is at all long, try to trim it down to its essence. 
      Type your reply directly beneath the quoted comment.

   * If you are replying to several distinct points individually, quote
      each one as above and type your reply immediately below it (and
      above the next point).

   * If you are replying to a long section that cannot be easily
      trimmed down (for example, an original poem or story), quote only
      its first and last lines (and perhaps put "[snip]" or "..." on a
      line in between the two).  If there are particular pieces that
      you want to respond to individually, do so as described above.

   There are two general rules of thumb to follow in connection with
the above guidelines:

   * Any article you post should have more lines of new text than lines
      of quoted text.  It is generally acceptable to ignore this rule
      if the entire post (including basic headers and any signature) is
      short enough to fit on a single 24 line screen.

   * Any comments specifically replying to the previous article should
      come /below/ the relevant part of the previous article.  This
      makes reading the article more like reading a conversation, and
      therefore much easier to follow.

This obviously means that "top posting" is strongly discouraged: it
forces readers to scroll up and down between the new and old material,
and it usually involves quoting the entire previous post(s) untrimmed..
 Whether you call our practice "bottom posting", "middle posting", or
"standard netiquette" is up to you.

   An example of a post that follows these guidelines can be found on
the web at

This long message (from a discussion of my essay on Tom Bombadil) would
be all but impossible to follow if the point by point replies were not
organized as described above.

   Finally, make sure to keep the subject line up to date, as discussed
in question II.B.1.

3. When should I "cross-post" to multiple newsgroups?

   Generally, you should post an article to the single most appropriate
group: a question about /The Hobbit/ is more appropriate on
rec.arts.books.tolkien than on rec.arts.books. However, there are cases
when several groups are appropriate: a discussion of the influence of
Tolkien's faith on his writings could be interesting to readers of both
soc.religion.christian.roman-catholic and rec.arts.books.tolkien.
(Cases in which more than two or three groups are truly appropriate are
extremely rare!)

   In such cases, it is almost always better to "cross-post" the
article to multiple groups than to post separately to each.  To do
this, list all of the relevant groups together on the "Newsgroups:"
line, separated by commas but /no/ spaces (many posts here list
"Newsgroups:,rec.arts.books.tolkien"). Cross-posting
has several advantages, the most important being that responses to a
cross-posted article are also cross-posted.  That ensures that everyone
involved in the discussion sees every reply.

   Some internet service providers (notably AOL) misguidedly forbid
cross-posting, probably because /inappropriate/ cross-posting is very
bad netiquette and is often used to "spam" many groups at once.  If you
have this problem, it may be better to choose just one "best" group for
your post than to post separate copies to multiple groups.

4. I am able to post my messages with HTML formatting.	Should I?

   Generally, no.  Many of us use simple text-based programs to read
news, and posts with HTML formatting can be very difficult to read. 
You can generally turn off this behavior from the "Preferences" or
"Options" section of your newsreader.  For some newsreaders, you will
need to change more than one setting to completely eliminate this

5. If someone insults me or otherwise makes me upset, should I flame 
    them back?


6. Even if my reputation and honor are at stake?

   Feel free to post any corrections or differences in opinion that you
feel are necessary.  Feel free to indicate that you are hurt, unhappy,
or insulted because of their comments.  But by no means escalate the
budding flame war, and try your hardest to be polite in your response:
this tends to get the group's sentiments on your side far better than
any exchange of name-calling ever could.  People are usually fairly
good at recognizing when someone is being terribly unfair.  Yes, it is
undoubtedly your right to flame if you want to, but the vast majority
of the group would be happier if you did not.

   In general, try to give others the benefit of the doubt: with only
text to go on, it's hard to judge their real intent.  Could you have
misread the insulting lines in their post?  Could they have been
speaking tongue in cheek?  Maybe they only meant to tease you, not
realizing that you would really be insulted.  Assuming the worst is a
depressing way to live one's life.

   Finally, be particularly careful not to reply to a "troll", someone
who intentionally fishes for arguments and flames.  These people seem
to take great personal delight in inspiring people to anger or
indignation; the best reaction to them is generally to ignore them

7. Where can I go for more information on netiquette, and on Usenet in 

   One of the best places to start has always been the newsgroup
news.announce.newusers.  This group is home to a wide range of articles
that provide introductory information about many aspects of Usenet
news.  Unfortunately, most of these articles are no longer being posted
regularly to the group.  It may be more effective to read archived
copies of them at

Read the "Welcome to Usenet!" article there first.

   The information on netiquette and on Usenet in general in the
news.announce.newusers articles remains very relevant today, but those
articles are several years old.  More recent information on similar
topics can be found at the web sites associated with the
news.newusers.questions newsgroup.  A list of these sites around the
world can be found at


(among many other places).



   A great many questions about Tolkien and his books arise repeatedly
on the Tolkien newsgroups.  The starting point of each debate is the
same almost every time, and it takes a long time for the discussion to
reach "new ground."  In the worst cases, bitter and longstanding
arguments about the basics get in the way before new progress can be
made at all.

   The purpose of a FAQ is to avoid this problem by setting down the
basics in a common place so that the discussion can deal with new
issues from the start.  However, it is very difficult to balance the
need for conciseness with the need for completeness: many debates that
repeatedly appear on the Tolkien newsgroups have generated very large
amounts of "known territory."

   Keep in mind that this FAQ provides only summaries of these debates:
many of their subtleties are omitted for the sake of brevity. Most of
these topics have been discussed at length by many intelligent people,
but there are still cases where we do not agree on the answer. In these
cases, it is extremely unlikely that any unambiguous "proof" of one
position exists.  With this in mind, try to be respectful toward those
who disagree with you.  To get more information on the usual content of
common discussions, it is often helpful to browse those discussions
themselves at the Google Groups Usenet archive (see question IV.A.5 for
more information).

   Finally, be sure to read question III.A.2, dealing with "canonical"
texts.  This FAQ addresses only the state of Middle-earth after LotR
was written, which corresponds roughly to the material included in the
published /Silmarillion/.  Details from earlier versions of the
mythology will not be discussed in this document (and are generally
given very limited weight in debates about the later state of the



1. What is the best order in which to read the books?

   This depends on each person's personal preferences.  Unless you
strongly dislike stories written for children, most recommend reading
/The Hobbit/ first.  /The Lord of the Rings/ is certainly next (feel
free to skip the Prologue if you find it dull, and after the main text
try to read at least Appendix A.I.v about Aragorn and Arwen).

   If you enjoy any part of the Appendices to LotR, there are things in
Tolkien's other books that you are likely to enjoy as well.  Most
suggest reading /The Silmarillion/ and /Unfinished Tales/ next, in some
order.  Many people find the early parts of Silm. slow to read (like a
history book or the Bible) and prefer the stories and essays in UT, but
some of the best parts of UT will only make sense after reading Silm. 
(The Third Age stories in UT can be fully enjoyed even if you have only
read LotR, and many of the Second Age stories and the general essays in
Part 4 can be read then, too).

   For more details (and more books), try getting a personalized
recommendation from the Custom Tolkien Book List, on the web at


(This URL redirects to the longer and messier URL of the actual list.)

2. What books about Middle-earth are considered "canonical"?

[I have written an essay on this topic, including general observations
and my own approach.  It is on the web at:]

   A "canonical" text is one which is believed to provide authoritative
information about Middle-earth.  By and large, all agree that /The Lord
of the Rings/ is a canonical text, and most assign equal or near equal
weight to /The Hobbit/ (the other books about Middle-earth published in
Tolkien's lifetime are treated similarly).  However, due to heavy and
unmarked posthumous editing, /The Silmarillion/ is considered by many
/not/ to be canonical (see question III.A.3 for details).

   People put various amounts of trust in the many drafts and essays in
/Unfinished Tales/ and the "History of Middle-earth" series. In cases
where Tolkien's intent seems particularly stable and clear, some trust
these sources almost as much as /The Hobbit/ and LotR themselves.  In
practice, this means that most of the more trustworthy material is
found in /Unfinished Tales/ and in volumes X-XII of the HoMe series. 
Opinions on how much to trust /The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien/ are
mixed, but its contents are generally respected as long as they are not
contradicted by other (more canonical) texts.  The pictures in /J.R.R.
Tolkien: Artist and Illustrator/ by Wayne Hammond and Christina Scull
may also be considered somewhat canonical.

   It is important to note that many aspects of Middle-earth changed
substantially over the course of Tolkien's life.  Because of this,
facts taken from the early versions of the mythology can be misleading
or just plain wrong when used to draw conclusions about LotR or later
versions of the mythology.  This means that while the early versions
can provide valuable hints about Tolkien's thoughts on an issue, they
are rarely considered to provide definitive evidence for any position.

   The Custom Tolkien Book List (mentioned in question III.A.1)
includes my own judgment and comments on the "canonicity" of each
section of each book in the list.  While those are just one person's
opinions, they are fairly typical.  A static version of the list in
publication order can be found on the web at


That static list still contains a link to the customizable version.

3. How does /The Silmarillion/ as published differ from  what Tolkien

   This is a complicated question that is essentially unanswerable:
despite his lifelong effort, Tolkien never came close to completing
/The Silmarillion/.  At Tolkien's request, after his death his son
Christopher (with some help from Guy Kay) worked to "bring the work
into publishable form"; Christopher discusses the difficulties involved
in the book's Foreword.  To understand why /The Silmarillion/ took the
form that it did (and why it is rarely considered "canonical", as
mentioned in question III.A.2), it is worth exploring those editorial
changes.  [The full story can be found in the "History of Middle-earth"
books, particularly /Morgoth's Ring/ and /The War of the Jewels/
(volumes X-XI).]

   The most basic editorial decision was which writings to include in
the book at all.  The "Quenta Silmarillion" is of course the central
text, but Tolkien also wrote numerous associated stories and essays.
Charles Noad explored this question as part of his essay "On the
Construction of 'The Silmarillion'" (published in /Tolkien's
Legendarium/; see question III.A.5), where he suggests an "outline for
'The Silmarillion' as Tolkien may have intended it". In addition to the
texts in the published book, Noad includes expanded versions of four
stories: "The Lay of Leithian" (possibly in poetic form), "Narn i Chin
Hurin", "The Fall of Gondolin", and "Earendil the Wanderer" (which
Tolkien never even fully sketched).  He also includes five
"Appendices": writings about Middle-earth and its inhabitants such as
"Laws and Customs among the Eldar" and the "Athrabeth Finrod ah
Andreth" (most of these were published in HoMe X-XI).  Sadly, a book
with this outline could never be made satisfying with just the texts
that Tolkien left us.

   Moving on to the texts that were actually included in /The
Silmarillion/ as published, there were three types of problems to
overcome.  In the worst cases, there were crucial gaps in the narrative
where Tolkien had never written more than an outline of the story (or
where the most recent version was hopelessly outdated). Much more
frequently, Tolkien's years of revisions led to factual inconsistencies
between stories written at various times (especially between writings
before and after /The Lord of the Rings/). And finally, Tolkien's
writings differed markedly in tone, ranging from vivid narratives to
terse annals to philosophical essays.  To assemble a single text,
consistent in style and detail, from such a range of source material
clearly required substantial editing.

   Despite that pessimistic assessment, the vast majority of the
published /Silmarillion/ is taken directly from Tolkien's work and
seems to come quite close to what he intended, as far as it goes. (None
of the "expanded" tales were ever completed, but what exists of them
can be found for the most part in /Unfinished Tales/, /The Lays of
Beleriand/, and the other "History of Middle-earth" books mentioned
above.)  Still, mild editing is not uncommon, and can be difficult to
identify even by comparison to the source texts as published in HoMe. 
Thus, /The Silmarillion/ is often not treated as a final authority in
scholarly discussions of Middle-earth.  (A classic example is its
mistaken ancestry of Gil-galad, as discussed in question III.B.8.)

   The greatest concern, of course, comes from those few cases where
large gaps had to be filled by the editors.  This happened to some
extent for "Of Tuor and the Fall of Gondolin" and "Of the Voyage of
Earendil and the War of Wrath", but the most substantial editorial
"invention" came in the chapter "Of the Ruin of Doriath".  The episode
was of crucial importance and thus could not be left out or glossed
over, but Tolkien had written almost no description of the event since
1930 (long before even /The Hobbit/ was published) and the mythology
had changed drastically since then.  Moreover, Tolkien was never happy
with some aspects of the story, in particular with the question of how
the Dwarves could invade Doriath despite the Girdle of Melian.  The
published version was directly inspired by some of Tolkien's drafts of
the tale (those which seemed easiest to reconcile with the rest of the
story), but was essentially rewritten to be consistent with the rest of
the book and to include a few ideas from Tolkien's later writings. 
That meant some major changes: for example, in Tolkien's own drafts,
the Nauglamir did not exist before it was made to hold the Silmaril
(out of raw gold from Nargothrond), and Thingol was not slain until the
full Dwarvish army attacked.

   In his comments on "Of the Ruin of Doriath" (an appendix to "The
Tale of Years" in /The War of the Jewels/), Christopher Tolkien
concludes with the regret that "the undoubted difficulties could have
been, and should have been, surmounted without so far overstepping the
bounds of the editorial function."  Elsewhere in that book, at the end
of the section "The Wanderings of Hurin", he speaks of other omissions
and alterations, and says,

   it seems to me now, many years later, to have been an excessive
   tampering with my father's actual thought and intention: thus
   raising the question, whether the attempt to make a 'unified'
   /Silmarillion/ should have been embarked on.

Whatever failings /The Silmarillion/ as published may have, I think
that most of its readers are grateful to have it, and would assure
Christopher Tolkien that his work was worthwhile.  He undertook a great
task in bringing it to print, and despite his later misgivings I think
most would agree that he did an excellent job.

4. Which are "The Two Towers"?

   Tolkien was never very happy with the title.  In Letters #140 and
#143 he considers many interpretations of it, each with its own
rationale, and even comments that it could be left ambiguous.  It
seems, however, that he eventually settled on one interpretation.

   The note at the end of /The Fellowship of the Ring/ in three-volume
editions of LotR states that

   The second part is called /The Two Towers/, since the events
   recounted in it are dominated by /Orthanc/, the citadel of Saruman,
   and the fortress of /Minas Morgul/ that guards the secret entrance
   to Mordor.

According to Wayne Hammond's /J.R.R. Tolkien: A Descriptive
Bibliography/, Tolkien submitted that note a month after his indecision
in Letter #143.  And a month later, Tolkien submitted an illustration
for the dust-jacket of /The Two Towers/; as can be seen in /J.R.R.
Tolkien: Artist and Illustrator/ (plate [180]), that illustration shows
Minas Morgul and Orthanc as well.  It seems clear that this was
Tolkien's final decision.

5. Which books /about/ Tolkien are good, and which aren't?

   A few disclaimers.  First, this is a very subjective question, and
what follows is largely a matter of individual opinion.  This list was
gleaned from discussions on the newsgroups and it reflects some level
of consensus, but no verdict was unanimous.  Second, this list is
/very/ incomplete, but there simply isn't space to list all of the
excellent scholarship on Tolkien that has been produced. Unfortunately,
this means that only books will be included, and I will focus on only
the best known of those (and even then, I'm sure some are missing).  My
apologies to anyone who has been overlooked.

   With that being said, these are some of the best secondary works
about Tolkien, in no particular order.  I have included general
descriptions for books whose titles do not make their content clear.

   * /The Complete Guide to Middle-earth/, by Robert Foster.  A
      detailed and very trustworthy glossary of people, places, and
      things in /The Hobbit/, LotR, and /The Silmarillion/, including
      page references to the original texts.

   * /[J.R.R.] Tolkien: A Biography/, by Humphrey Carpenter.  (The
      initials are not part of the title in the USA.)

   * /The Annotated Hobbit/, by J.R.R. Tolkien, annotated by Douglas A.
      Anderson.  Textual history and general comments (be sure to get
      the recent second edition).

   * /J.R.R. Tolkien: Artist and Illustrator/ by Wayne Hammond and
      Christina Scull.	Pictures by Tolkien and accompanying

   * /The Road to Middle-earth/ and /J.R.R. Tolkien: Author of the
      Century/, by Tom Shippey.  Literary analysis and criticism.

   * /Splintered Light/ and /A Question of Time/, by Verlyn Flieger. 
      Literary analysis and criticism.

   * /Tolkien's Legendarium/, ed. Verlyn Flieger and Carl F. Hostetter.
       Literary analysis and criticism related to the "History of
      Middle-earth" series (and Tolkien's other works).  Some find
      parts of this book to be a good introduction to that series.

   * /_The Lord of the Rings_: A Reader's Companion/, by Wayne Hammond
      and Christina Scull.  Page by page annotation of LotR with
      comments of interest to everyone from second-time readers to
      seasoned experts.  Contains material from some previously
      unpublished letters and essays by Tolkien, as well as summaries
      of textual history and general observations.

   A notable book whose status is ambiguous is /The Atlas of
Middle-earth/, by Karen Wynn Fonstad.  It is the best general Tolkien
atlas available, covering the full history of Middle-earth, and in most
cases Fonstad has done well in extrapolating detailed topographic maps
from Tolkien's texts and rougher originals.  However, there are a fair
number of minor errors in her research, and it can sometimes be
difficult to tell what level of justification exists for each of her
maps' details.

   Finally, what follow are a few books that many Tolkien scholars
avoid.  All of them can be enjoyable to read when taken on their own,
but they are not entirely trustworthy guides to Tolkien's Middle-earth
and are generally ignored in scholarly debates.  Because I am not
comfortable speaking poorly of others' work without justification, I
have provided links to further discussion for each of these titles.

   * /A Tolkien Bestiary/, and other books by David Day.

   * /The Tolkien Companion/, by J.E.A. Tyler.

   * /The Languages of Tolkien's Middle-earth/, by Ruth Noel.

6. Is Middle-earth Medieval?

   Tolkien's works draw from quite a few periods of human history, and
many aspects of Middle-earth distinctly resemble their real-world
counterparts in the Middle Ages.  However, there are substantial
discrepancies in society and culture that indicate that other periods
in history also made large contributions (as one example, in Letter
#211 Tolkien compared several significant aspects of the society of
Gondor to that of ancient Egypt).  The relative influence of Medieval
and other periods has been hotly contested in the past, though this has
not been a major issue in recent years.

7. Was Tolkien racist?	Were his works?

   A full discussion of this issue is beyond the scope of this FAQ.
Some people find what they consider to be clear indications of racist
attitudes in Tolkien's works.  It is certainly possible that they are
right: racism is notoriously difficult to recognize accurately, and
most people harbor at least some level of racial mistrust.

   On the other hand, most people who make such accusations seem to do
so primarily to stir up controversy and inspire flame wars.  In fact,
much of the "evidence" presented to demonstrate Tolkien's racism is
flawed, and there is reason to believe that Tolkien was less racist
than many people of his day.  For the sake of diffusing the issue a
little, I will mention a few of those mistaken arguments.

   One occasional charge is that Tolkien was anti-semitic, presumably
because he occasionally compared his Dwarves to Jews.  Those
comparisons seem to focus on history and language, however: in Letter
#176 he says, "I do think of the 'Dwarves' like Jews: at once native
and alien in their habitations, speaking the languages of the country,
but with an accent due to their own private tongue.....".  And he seems
to have had a very positive view of the Jewish people in general.  For
example, when discussing the origins of the name "Tolkien" in the final
footnote to Letter #325, he says, "It is not Jewish in origin, though I
should consider it an honour if it were." He made very similar comments
in a draft of a letter (#30) to a publisher in Nazi Germany who asked
about his race, and in Letter #29 he introduced that draft and told his
publisher, "I should regret giving any colour to the notion that I
subscribed to the wholly pernicious and unscientific race-doctrine."

   Another seemingly prejudiced statement comes in Letter #210, where
Tolkien describes the Orcs as "degraded and repulsive versions of the
(to Europeans) least lovely Mongol-types".  At first glance this looks
blatantly racist, but the qualifier "to Europeans" casts it in a very
different light: Tolkien explicitly recognized that different cultures
have different standards of beauty, and that his impressions did not
reflect any underlying superiority.  Moreover, he made it clear that
the Orcs were not in any sense actual "Mongol-types", but "degraded and
repulsive versions" of humanoid stock.  (Nevertheless, his comment
certainly falls short of modern standards of sensitivity.)

   Many point to the "hierarchy" of the various groups of humans in the
books as clear evidence of cultural elitism or racism, but they seem to
forget that most of the Numenoreans (the "highest" humans) fell into
deepest evil and were destroyed by God, while the Woses (the "Wild Men"
of Druadan forest, who certainly would not represent "civilized"
Europeans) were among the most wise and resistant to evil of all
peoples (as well as having a complex culture and many skills other Men
lacked), to take two of many examples.

   Finally, a few people have mistaken the symbolic conflict between
"darkness" and "light" in the books for a conflict between "black" and
"white", which they then interpret racially (which is already a
stretch).  They seem to overlook the ghastly white corpse-light of
Minas Morgul, the White Hand of Saruman, and Isildur's black Stone of
Erech, to name a few exceptions.

   As for specific claims that Tolkien linked skin color to good and
evil, there are simply too many exceptions for that to hold up.  Light
skinned characters who did evil things include Saruman, Grima, Gollum,
Boromir, Denethor, and the Numenoreans as mentioned above.  And it is
notable that Tolkien described Forlong's people of Gondor and even the
men of Bree as "swarthy", the same term he used for example of the
Southrons who were ambushed by Faramir (though to be fair, he may have
imagined different degrees of "swarthiness" for those groups).  For
that matter, Sam's flash of empathy for the fallen Southron he saw
during the ambush indicates that many of Sauron's soldiers were likely
unwilling slaves, not evil at heart.

   In short, while there are racially "suspicious" elements to be found
in Tolkien's writings if one hunts for them, closer examination
typically reveals the attitude behind them to be benign.  That doesn't
mean that he was perfect, but it certainly doesn't seem that he should
be condemned for intolerance.

8. Are there electronic versions of Tolkien's books?

   For many aspects of Tolkien scholarship, it would be convenient to
have an electronic version of the books (this would make full text
searches feasible, for example).  However, the Tolkien Estate has not
chosen to authorize any electronic versions, probably because of the
ease with which electronic versions can be illegally copied and
distributed.  Therefore, there are no legal electronic copies of
Tolkien's writings.  The moral issues involved are less clear (they
seem to depend on one's economic philosophy), but the general culture
of the newsgroups is pretty firmly against these unauthorized texts.

9. Where can I report copyright violations that I observe?

   If you do find an unauthorized copy of any of Tolkien's works on the
Internet, you may want to take some action to support the rights of the
Tolkien Estate.  It is generally best to begin with a polite request
that the texts be taken offline, and only if that fails to take more
drastic action such as contacting the hosting Internet service
provider.  If all else fails, you can send a brief letter to the
Estate's legal representative informing her of the situation, although
this should be considered a last resort:

Mrs. Cathleen Blackburn
Manches & Co.
3 Worcester Street
Oxford OX1 2PZ



1. Did Balrogs have wings?

[Conrad Dunkerson has written a much more detailed essay on this
question as part of his "The Truth About Balrogs" series, on the web
at:  That page also includes
links to other discussions of the issue.]

   Debates on this topic have been frequent and intense, in part
because people unknowingly interpret the question in very different
ways.  Most participants in these debates agree on the following:

   * The Balrog in Moria had "wings" of some sort, or if you prefer, a
      "shadow" shaped like wings.

   * Those "wings" were probably not made of flesh and blood, but
      rather of some sort of "dark emanation" or "palpable darkness".

   Many of the most intense arguments seem to have resulted from
different uses of the word "wing".  In this consensus statement, the
(quoted) word "wing" is used only as a convenient symbol for the
feature of the Balrog under discussion, without reference to any
standard definition.  In particular, the statement does not specify
whether the "palpable darkness" always had a winglike shape.

   So what are the different definitions that people use?  The Oxford
English Dictionary divides its relevant definitions of the word "wing"
into two groups.  Group I includes definitions that for the most part
refer to physical parts of a creature's body.  For example, #1.a. is
"Each of the organs of flight of any flying animal" (but broadened to
include cases where similar organs are not used for flight, such as
penguins' wings and even "the enlarged fins of flying fishes").

   Group II includes definitions relating primarily to a thing's shape
or position.  For example, #5. is "An appliance or appendage resembling
or analagous to a wing in form or function", including #5.a. "An
artificial apparatus attached to the human arms or shoulders" and
#5.d.(a) "one of the planes of an aeroplane".  Even broader, #6 is "A
lateral part or appendage: in various connexions."

With a "Group II" definition of "wing", the question "Do Balrogs have
wings?" is more or less trivial: Tolkien's description clearly fits (at
least at the time described in the quotes below), as does the consensus
statement above.  With a "Group I" definition of "wing", the question
is more interesting and the answer less obvious: it depends on the
specific definition, and even then not everyone will agree.

   The consensus statement above was not reached quickly, and even with
a "Group I" definition some newcomers believe that a simple "yes" or
"no" is clear from the description of the Balrog in "The Bridge of
Khazad-dum".  The debates generally begin as follows:

   * "Pro-wingers" point out that when the Balrog steps onto the
      Bridge, "its wings were spread from wall to wall".

   * "No-wingers" point out that the word "wings" was first used in the
      phrase "the shadow about it reached out like two vast wings", and
      deduce that the word "wings" refers to the "shadow" itself rather
      than to a part of the Balrog's solid central body.  (The "shadow"
      was seen when the Balrog first appeared: "it was like a great
      shadow, in the middle of which was a dark form", and it is likely
      the "cloud" in the phrase "It came to the edge of the fire and
      the light faded as if a cloud had bent over it".)

   * "Pro-wingers" claim that as the Balrog came closer to the
      Fellowship its uncertain appearance became clearer, so what first
      looked like a "shadow" or "cloud" and later "like wings" was
      finally recognized as "wings" once the Balrog was nearby. 
      "No-wingers" do not agree with this interpretation.

Progress beyond this point is difficult, but again, most of those on
both sides of the debate agree with the consensus statement. One
substantial remaining point of disagreement is whether the "wings"
always had a winglike shape (supported in part by Tolkien's use of the
direct phrase "its wings") or if their form was variable (supported in
part by the "cloud" description), and there is no firm evidence known
for either position.

2. Could Balrogs fly?

[Conrad Dunkerson has written a much more detailed essay on this
question as part of his "The Truth About Balrogs" series, on the web
at:  That page also includes
links to other discussions of the issue.]

   There is considerable disagreement on this point.  Most agree that
the Moria passage does not provide convincing evidence for or against
Balrogs' ability to fly.  (For example, while the Balrog does not fly
out of the chasm, it may not have had enough room to use its wings, or
its highest priority may have been the destruction of a rival Maia in
its domain.)  Most also agree that as Maiar, Balrogs could conceivably
be able to fly even if they had no wings, or that they could have had
wings but remained flightless.  Still, the two issues are certainly
related to some degree.

   A number of facts have been taken as indirect evidence that Balrogs
could not fly (e.g. they never flew over the mountains to discover
Gondolin; at least two died falling from cliffs), but counterarguments
have always been found (the eagles defended Gondolin; the Balrogs fell
only after great injuries).  Clearer evidence comes from "Of Tuor and
his Coming to Gondolin" in /Unfinished Tales/, when Voronwe says, "as
yet no servant of the Enemy has dared to fly into the high airs".  Even
if Voronwe's information was complete, however, this still leaves room
for Balrogs to be able to fly at low altitudes.

   The only known place where Tolkien may have made a direct statement
on Balrogs' ability to fly can be found in "The Later Quenta
Silmarillion (II)" in /Morgoth's Ring/:

   Far beneath the halls of Angband... the Balrogs lurked still.... 
   Swiftly they arose, and they passed with winged speed over Hithlum,
   and they came to Lammoth as a tempest of fire.

Some believe that this passage clearly describes Balrogs flying, others
believe it just uses imagery of flight to indicate speed, and still
others believe it to be ambiguous.

3. What was Tom Bombadil?

[This supplements question V.G.1 of the Tolkien FAQ.]

[I have written a much more detailed analysis of this question; it is
on the web at:]

   Theories on Bombadil's nature abound.  Many people believe that Tom
was a Maia: if we assume he is one of the types of entities we know of
from the Silmarillion, this seems to be the best fit.  (A closely
related suggestion is that Tom was an Ainu who never took a place in
the usual hierarchy of Arda).  Other popular views make Tom a nature
spirit of a kind never explicitly described, either one of many, or the
incarnation of Arda itself.  These theories are inspired by comments at
the Council of Elrond and in /Letters/.

   Many other possibilities still arise regularly (for example, that he
is some particular Vala or even Eru himself), but there are fairly
strong arguments against them.  (For example, Tolkien said in several
Letters that Eru did not physically inhabit Middle-earth.)  Some people
argue that Tolkien intentionally left Bombadil an enigma even to
himself, and that therefore any attempt to find out what he was is
doomed to fail.  A truly satisfying explanation of Bombadil's nature
would explain Goldberry as well.

4. Did Elves have pointed ears?

[This supplements question V.C.1 of the Tolkien FAQ.]

[Conrad Dunkerson has written a more detailed discussion of this
question, on the web at:]

   There is no known text in which Tolkien makes a final, unambiguous
statement about the shape of Elvish ears.  Those who argue in favor of
pointed ears generally cite a remark which seems to support that
position found in the "Etymologies" (part of /The Lost Road/). That
document was written in the period immediately before the composition
of LotR and revised sporadically while LotR was being written, so it is
unclear to what extent it should be treated as a canonical source. 
Those who argue against pointed ears focus on Tolkien's statements that
Elves and humans were sufficiently similar that they could be mistaken
for each other.  There is no consensus on this issue.

5. Did Elves have beards?

   Most of Tolkien's writings imply that Elves were generally
beardless.  This is stated clearly in a note written late in Tolkien's
life which is summarized in the section "Amroth and Nimrodel" in "The
History of Galadriel and Celeborn" in /Unfinished Tales/.  In the note,

   there is a discussion of the Elvish strain in Men, as to its being
   observable in the beardlessness of those who were so descended (it
   was a characteristic of all Elves to be beardless).

At first glance, this would seem to settle the issue.

   However, this ignores a crucial exception.  In "The Grey Havens",
when Cirdan the Shipwright greets Frodo and the Elves, we read "Very
tall he was, and his beard was long".  This canonical evidence makes it
clear that some Elves do have beards.  A very incomplete explanation of
this apparent discrepancy appears in a note associated with "The
Shibboleth of Feanor" which was published in the journal /Vinyar
Tengwar/ #41, which reads

   Elves did not have beards until they entered their third cycle of
   life.  Nerdanel's father was exceptional, being only early in his

(Nerdanel was Feanor's wife.)  No other mention of Elvish "cycles of
life" is known.  Even without a full understanding, however, this helps
to reconcile these statements: Cirdan was one of the oldest Elves in
Middle-earth and could easily be in his "third cycle of life", and
humans descended from Elves might never live long enough to reach the
bearded state.

6. What happened to Elves after they died?

[This updates question V.D.1 of the Tolkien LessFAQ.]

   A great deal of information on this topic can be found in /Morgoth's
Ring/ (HoMe X).  Tolkien's latest thoughts on the issue can be found in
"Note 3" to the "Athrabeth Finrod ah Andreth" and in the Appendix to
that text.  In brief, when Elves died, they were summoned to Mandos. 
Once the Valar deemed them to be ready, they could (if they wished) be
directly re-embodied (with the aid of the Valar) in a body identical to
the one they had lost.  Tolkien clearly abandoned the idea that the
Elves could be re-born as children.

   "Note 3" says that Elven spirits "could refuse the summons [to
Mandos], but this would imply that they were in some way tainted".
Details of such refusals are not given in the text above, but are
discussed in an earlier essay: "Laws and Customs among the Eldar", part
of "The Later Quenta Silmarillion (II)" in /Morgoth's Ring/.  Those who
refused "then had little power to resist the counter-summons of
Morgoth."  The reason for this "counter-summons" is not explained, nor
is it clear what became of them after Morgoth's defeat, but the text
mentions that some of the living sought to speak with the "Unbodied" or
even to control them, and that "Such practices are of Morgoth; and the
necromancers are of the host of Sauron his servant."

7. Was Glorfindel of Rivendell the same as Glorfindel of Gondolin?

[This updates question V.D.2 of the Tolkien LessFAQ.]

   Yes.  With the publication of /The Peoples of Middle-earth/,
certainty has become possible: the first essays in the section "Last
Writings" of that book discuss Glorfindel and his history.  Those texts
make it very clear that after his death in the flight from Gondolin,
Glorfindel was re-embodied in Aman (see question III.B.6) and was later
sent back to Middle-earth as an aid or an emissary.  Tolkien seems to
have been uncertain as to whether he returned in the Second Age by way
of Numenor or in the Third Age as a companion of Gandalf.

8. Who was Gil-galad's father?

   /The Silmarillion/ states many times that Gil-galad was the son of
Fingon, son of Fingolfin.  However, in /The Peoples of Middle-earth/
(in comments on the essay "The Shibboleth of Feanor"), Christopher
Tolkien explains that this was an editorial error due to the complexity
of the source material: "Gil-galad as the son of Fingon... was an
ephemeral idea."

   Tolkien changed his mind about Gil-galad's ancestry several times,
but it seems that his latest decision was to make Gil-galad the son of
Orodreth, son of Angrod, son of Finarfin (making him the brother of
Finduilas and nephew of Finrod).  Christopher says that "There can be
no doubt that this was my father's last word on the subject", but that
because the change was never incorporated into other texts,

   "it was obviously impossible to introduce it into the published
   /Silmarillion/.  It would nonetheless have been very much better to
   have left Gil-galad's parentage obscure."

Whether one agrees with that assessment or not, it is at least clear
that /The Silmarillion/ is not entirely trustworthy here.

9. Did Dwarf women have beards?

[This updates question V.D.1 of the Tolkien FAQ.]

   Yes.  The most canonical evidence for this comes in Appendix A,
where it is said of Dwarf women that

   They are in voice and appearance, and in garb if they must go on a
   journey, so like to the dwarf-men that the eyes and ears of other
   peoples cannot tell them apart.

It seems that (male) Dwarves in Middle-earth all have beards: among
other evidence, as Bilbo sets out on his adventure in /The Hobbit/, we
read that "His only comfort was that he couldn't be mistaken for a
dwarf, as he had no beard."  Given that, the quote above must imply
that Dwarf women were bearded as well.

   However, we do not need to rely on such implications: Tolkien
answered this question explicitly in other texts.  In /The War of the
Jewels/ ("The Later /Quenta Silmarillion/: Of the Naugrim and the
Edain", written ~1951), Tolkien wrote that

   no Man nor Elf has ever seen a beardless Dwarf - unless he were
   shaven in mockery, and would then be more like to die of shame...
   For the Naugrim have beards from the beginning of their lives, male
   and female alike...

In /The Peoples of Middle-earth/, Christopher Tolkien says that a
similar statement was present in an earlier draft of Appendix A as
well.  As these statements are entirely in agreement with the canonical
evidence cited above, the conclusion that Dwarf women had beards seems

10. Was there "telepathy" in Middle-earth?

   Although it is not emphasized in the books, direct communication of
thought from mind to mind was certainly part of Middle-earth.  This is
stated directly in the chapter "Many Partings" of LotR, when Celeborn,
Galadriel, Gandalf, and Elrond lingered before parting:

   ...they did not move or speak with mouth, looking from mind to mind;
   and only their shining eyes stirred and kindled as their thoughts
   went to and fro.

Another example is the voice Frodo hears in his mind on Amon Hen,
saying, "Take off the Ring!", which was that of Gandalf as he "sat in a
high place, and... strove with the Dark Tower" ("The White Rider"). 
("The Black Gate is Closed" confirms that this was Gandalf, when it
suggests that Frodo felt Gandalf's thought on him, "as he had upon Amon

   Tolkien discusses the details of this "telepathy" at length in the
essay "/Osanwe-kenta/: Enquiry into the Communication of Thought",
which was published in the journal /Vinyar Tengwar/ #39 (available from  It seems that all minds had this ability, but
that it was "dimmed" whenever it passed through a physical body.  Elves
could therefore use it more easily than humans, as their wills had
greater control over their bodies.  The essay contains many more
fascinating details, but there is not space even to summarize them

11. Did Sauron have a physical form during /The Lord of the  Rings/?

   There is strong evidence that Sauron did have a humanoid physical
body at the time of LotR.  In "The Black Gate is Closed" we read, "'He
has only four [fingers] on the Black Hand, but they are enough', said
Gollum shuddering."  Gollum was tortured in Barad-dur, and this
statement sounds as if it comes from personal experience.  Some have
objected that Gollum's memory of his torture might not be accurate for
various reasons, but this is still the only fully "canonical" evidence
on either side of the issue, so it should be taken seriously.

   It need not be taken alone, however.  Tolkien makes multiple
unambiguous statements that Sauron did have a physical form in
/Letters/.  For example, he describes Sauron's use of a humanoid shape
in Letter #200:

   It is mythologically supposed that when this shape was 'real', that
   is a physical actuality in the physical world and not a vision
   transferred from mind to mind, it took some time to build up.  It
   was then destructible like other physical organisms. ... After the
   battle with Gilgalad and Elendil, Sauron took a long while to
   re-build, longer than he had done after the Downfall of Numenor (I
   suppose because each building-up used up some of the inherent energy
   of the spirit...)

Because it took time for Sauron to "re-build" after his body was slain
by Gil-galad and Elendil, it is clear that it was more than just a
"vision".  Another clear statement can be found near the end of Letter
#246, where Tolkien discusses the possibility of a direct confrontation
between Sauron and a Ring-wielder at the end of the Third Age (he
considers both Aragorn and Gandalf).  He says,

   in a tale which allows the incarnation of great spirits in a
   physical and destructible form their power must be far greater when
   actually physically present. ... The form that he took was that of a
   man of more than human stature, but not gigantic.

No statements by Tolkien conflicting with these descriptions are known.

   Some have objected that the many references to the "Eye" of Sauron
must refer to his physical shape.  However, Tolkien used that term even
when referring to the period before the war of the Last Alliance, when
it is well known that Sauron had a physical form: for example, the
Akallabeth says that after Sauron "came back to Middle-earth and to
Mordor... the Eye of Sauron the Terrible few could endure."

   So what does "the Eye" refer to if not Sauron's physical form?
Frodo's perception of it is described in "The Passage of the Marshes":

   But far more he was troubled by the Eye: so he called it to himself.
   ... The Eye: that horrible growing sense of a hostile will that
   strove with great power to pierce all shadows of cloud, and earth,
   and flesh, and to see you: to pin you under its deadly gaze, naked,

A very similar comment about Morgoth appears in Text X of the "Myths
Transformed" section of /Morgoth's Ring/:

   ...Morgoth held the Orcs in dire thraldom; for in their corruption
   they had lost almost all possibility of resisting the domination of
   his will.  So great indeed did its pressure upon them become ere
   Angband fell that, if he turned his thought towards them, they were
   conscious of his 'eye' wherever they might be.

We know with absolute certainty that Morgoth had a huge but humanoid
physical form during the First Age, so "eye" here obviously refers to
his will.  The similarity between this description and the many
references to Sauron's "Eye" is striking, which seems to make the
meaning of that term clear.

12. What were the names of the Nazgul?

   The only known text to name any of the Nazgul is "The Hunt for the
Ring" in /Unfinished Tales/.  It names "the second to the Chief, Khamul
the Shadow of the East" as Sauron's lieutenant in Dol Guldur; in a
previous draft, he was called "the Second Chief (the Black
Easterling)".  Some believe that Gothmog, the lieutenant of Morgul, was
also a Nazgul; see question III.B.13 for further discussion.

   Some people have used the name "Angmar" to refer to the Witch King.
We know of no instance in which Tolkien used "Angmar" as a personal
name; in his writings it always refers to the Witch King's country.
Some still defend the use of "Angmar" as a convenient nickname, but as
others find this irritating it is probably best avoided.

13. What was Gothmog (the lieutenant of Morgul)?

   Gothmog (who shares his name with the Lord of Balrogs in the First
Age) took command of Sauron's forces after the Witch-king was
destroyed.  Some believe that like the Mouth of Sauron he was human,
while others claim that so responsible a position in Minas Morgul would
only be given to another Nazgul.  Several other possibilities also
arise repeatedly.  There seems to be no explicit evidence for any
particular answer.

14. What was the origin of Orcs?

[This updates question V.G.1 of the Tolkien LessFAQ.]

   Tolkien never seems to have firmly resolved this question in his own
mind, let alone on paper.  While /The Silmarillion/ as published states
fairly clearly that Orcs were corrupted Elves, /Unfinished Tales/ hints
that some strains of Orcs may have been bred from the Druedain. 
Tolkien's latest writings on the issue (found in Texts VIII-X of the
"Myths Transformed" section in /Morgoth's Ring/) show him considering
many possible origins: corrupted Elves, corrupted Men, very minor Maiar
(a small number of original Orcish leaders only), or even beasts given
fragments of Morgoth's own will so they would have some measure of
independence. Some combination of these origins seems most likely from
the texts, though the last of them was probably rejected.

   All of these suggested origins still support the notion that Orcs
reproduced in the same manner as other races (and therefore that there
were female Orcs).  This is explicitly discussed in Text X of "Myths
Transformed", which states that

   Men could under the domination of Morgoth or his agents in a few
   generations be reduced almost to the Orc-level of mind and habits;
   and then they would or could be made to mate with Orcs, producing
   new breeds, often larger and more cunning.

The role of female Orcs in their society is not at all clear.

15. Were Orcs immortal, and what happened to them after death?

   Given that Tolkien never firmly decided on the origin of Orcs (as
discussed in question III.B.14), it is unsurprising that little is
known about their fate.  It seems clear that creatures descended even
in part from humans would be mortal (as the Princes of Dol Amroth were;
Elrond and his kin were special exceptions).  In one his many
conflicting essays about Orcs (Text X of "Myths Transformed" in
/Morgoth's Ring/), Tolkien does give a direct answer to these

   They could be slain, and they were subject to disease; but apart
   from these ills they died and were not immortal, even according to
   the manner of the Quendi; indeed they appear to have been by nature
   short-lived compared with the span of Men of higher race, such as
   the Edain.

The apparent clarity of this statement may be misleading, considering
the frequency with which Tolkien made and contradicted assertions about
Orcs in the "Myths Transformed" texts.

   There are several reasons to believe that at least some Orcs had
very long lives.  One of the strongest is based on the death dates of
the Orc Azog and his son Bolg.  Azog was killed at the Battle of
Azanulbizar in 2799, while Bolg was killed at the Battle of Five Armies
in 2941.  Thus, Bolg was still alive and strong over 140 years after
his conception.

   More circumstantial evidence can be found in "The Choices of Master
Samwise", when Sam overhears Gorbag speaking to Shagrat:

   '...if we get a chance, you and me'll slip off and set up somewhere
   on our own... somewhere where there's good loot nice and handy, and
   no big bosses.'

   'Ah!' said Shagrat.	'Like old times.'

At this time, Sauron had been openly ruling Mordor for sixty-eight
years, but Shagrat and Gorbag seem to recall a time when he wasn't in
charge.  This could mean that they were over seventy years old, that it
took Sauron many years to establish firm control over his minions, or
that they heard stories of "old times" from their elders.

   Gorbag also makes reference to "the Great Siege", which might refer
either to the siege of the Last Alliance on Mordor or to the siege of
Angband in the First Age, but it is less clear that he actually
remembers it.  Similarly, the goblins who captured Bilbo and Thorin in
/The Hobbit/ had a surprisingly clear memory of the swords from
Gondolin that they called "Beater and Biter", but there are
explanations for that other than personal experience.

   As for their fate after death, this would depend very much on their
origins (again, refer to question III.B.14).  Beasts would presumably
not /have/ a fate after death, and it seems likely that creatures
descended even in part from Men would share their Gift and leave the
world.  Near the end of Text VIII of "Myths Transformed", Tolkien
comments that if there were an Elvish strain among Orcs, "dying they
would go to Mandos and be held in prison till the End."  It also seems
possible that Orcish spirits would refuse the summons to Mandos, as
discussed in question III.B.6 of this FAQ; it is even conceivable that
they could be reborn or re-embodied if they then returned to Morgoth or

16. What was the relationship between Orcs and Goblins?

[This supplements question V.F.1 of the Tolkien FAQ.]

   The words "Orc" and "Goblin" are essentially identical in meaning,
but Tolkien's inconsistent usage in /The Hobbit/ has led to
considerable confusion.  Still, a clear answer comes from Tolkien's
introductory note to later editions of that book, which explains that

   /Orc/ is not an English word.  It occurs in one or two places but is
   usually translated /goblin/ (or /hobgoblin/ for the larger kinds). 
   /Orc/ is the hobbits' form of the name given at that time to these

Some have taken this and other comments in /The Hobbit/ (such as the
reference to "the big ones, the orcs of the mountains" near the end of
"Riddles in the Dark") to mean that "Goblins" were smaller and "Orcs"
larger.  However, Tolkien did not generally make this distinction.  For
instance, the name /Orcrist/ is translated "Goblin-cleaver" in all
editions of /The Hobbit/. Another clear example comes from the chapter
"The Riders of Rohan" in LotR, when the companions reach the edge of

   Upon a stake in the middle was set a great goblin head; upon its
   shattered helm the white badge could still be seen.

The white badge makes it all but certain that this was one of the large
Uruk-hai.  In fact, it seems plausible that this was the head of Ugluk
himself, slain after a climactic fight sword to sword with Eomer at the
end of the battle.  If one of the Uruk-hai could be called a goblin,
any Orc could.

17. What was the origin of Saruman's Uruk-hai?

   Whatever the details of their origins, all evidence indicates that
like all Orcs, Saruman's Uruk-hai were bred "naturally" by mating
humanoid creatures who then bore live young. The real questions are
whether it was Sauron or Saruman who planned that breeding, and what
stock they were bred from.

   It is important that the meaning of "Uruk-hai" be clear from the
start.  Appendix F says that "the word /uruk/ of the Black Speech...
was applied as a rule only to the great soldier-orcs that at this time
issued from Mordor and Isengard."  As for the plural, the index of
/Unfinished Tales/ says that "Uruks" is an "Anglicized form of
/Uruk-hai/ of the Black Speech", and Tolkien seems to have used the
terms "Uruks" and "Uruk-hai" interchangeably in Letter #78.  (He used
the term there to refer to real people, and then explained "Urukhai
[sic] is only a figure of speech.  There are no genuine Uruks...".) 
However, it is not clear whether, at the end of the Third Age, the term
"Uruk" referred to a specific breed or to all "great soldier-orcs".

   According to Appendix A, the race of Uruks first appeared out of
Mordor in the last years of Steward Denethor I, before TA 2475.  If
"Uruk" is the name of a specific Orc breed, then this proves that
Saruman had no hand in their creation.  However, by the time of LotR
there is some evidence that several breeds had that name: the companies
of Ugluk, Shagrat, and Gorbag were all Uruks, and they differed at
least slightly in size and appearance (for example, Sam observed that
Gorbag's troop's gear was "a better fit" than Shagrat's).  Still, this
evidence is not conclusive; it seems that we cannot determine the
meaning of the word /Uruk/ itself without answering the larger

   As for Saruman, it is well established that he conducted a breeding
program crossing Orcs (quite possibly Uruks) with humans.  Immediately
following the quotation from /Morgoth's Ring/ cited in question
III.B.14 (Text X of "Myths Transformed") which describes Morgoth's
technique of mating Orcs with Men, Tolkien says that

   There is no doubt that long afterwards, in the Third Age, Saruman
   rediscovered this, or learned of it in lore, and in his lust for
   mastery committed this, his wickedest deed: the interbreeding of
   Orcs and Men, producing both Men-orcs large and cunning, and Orc-men
   treacherous and vile.

While this is the only explicit statement of Saruman's deeds, there are
numerous comments in LotR about Orclike Men and Manlike Orcs associated
with Isengard.  The most direct comments come from the chapter
"Treebeard", where Treebeard ponders Saruman's Orcs:

   For these Isengarders are more like wicked Men.  It is a mark of
   evil things that came in the Great Darkness that they cannot abide
   the Sun, but Saruman's Orcs can endure it, even if they hate it.  I
   wonder what he has done?  Are they Men he has ruined, or has he
   blended the races of Orcs and Men?  That would be a black evil!

The close agreement between Treebeard's thoughts here and the explicit
statement in /Morgoth's Ring/ makes it seem very likely that this was
Tolkien's intent.

   The remaining question is whether Saruman's Uruk-hai were the
"Men-orcs" from his breeding program.  This seems very likely, but it
is difficult to find absolute proof.  (Treebeard's comments suggest
that the Isengarders' tolerance of sunlight might make this clear, but
it is hard to prove that Uruks of Mordor lacked that tolerance.)

18. What was the origin of Trolls?

[This updates question V.G.2 of the Tolkien LessFAQ.]

   It is not at all clear.  One piece of information comes from
Treebeard's statement (in the chapter "Treebeard") that Trolls were
made "in mockery of Ents, as Orcs were of Elves".  However, this
probably only means that Ents gave Morgoth the idea for Trolls, not
that the two races are actually related: the two races have almost
nothing in common except great strength.  Also, in Letter #153, Tolkien
discusses this very quote and says that "Treebeard is a /character/ in
my story, not me... and there is quite a lot he does not know or

   One of Tolkien's more direct comments on the origin of Trolls comes
a few lines later in that letter.  He says of the Trolls in /The
Hobbit/ that

   I am not sure about Trolls.	I think they are mere 'counterfeits',
   and hence ... they return to mere stone images when not in the dark.
    But there are other sorts of Trolls, beside these rather
   ridiculous, if brutal, Stone-trolls, for which other origins are

At least when he wrote this in 1954, then, it seems that Tolkien
believed that the Stone-trolls in particular were barely even
independent beings, relying on some sort of "spell" or external will
for their existence.

   Another direct statement about Trolls can be found at the end of
Text IX of the "Myths Transformed" section of /Morgoth's Ring/
(probably written in the late 1950s):

   The Elves would have classed the creatures called 'trolls' (in /The
   Hobbit/ and /The Lord of the Rings/) as Orcs - in character and
   origin - but they were larger and slower.  It would seem evident
   that they were corruptions of primitive human types.

Christopher comments that "he seems to have been thinking...
specifically of the /Olog-hai/, the great Trolls who appeared at the
end of the Third Age (as stated in Appendix F)", quite likely in part
on the basis of the comment in Appendix F that "Some held that [the
/Olog-hai/] were not Trolls but giant Orcs".

   However, Tolkien's mention of /The Hobbit/ in this quote suggests
that its "Stone-trolls" were meant to be included as well, and Appendix
F goes on to say "but the Olog-hai were in fashion of body and mind
quite unlike even the largest of Orc-kind... Trolls they were..." which
suggests that all Trolls were fundamentally the same, and different
than Orcs.

   It is not clear how to reconcile these statements, though the
evidence from LotR naturally carries the greatest weight.  In any case,
Tolkien's indecision about the origin of Orcs in /Morgoth's Ring/ (as
discussed in question III.B.14) almost certainly applies even more
strongly to the passing comment regarding Trolls quoted above.

19. What were the giants (seen by Bilbo in /The Hobbit/)?

   Nobody knows.  Among texts considered to be at all canonical (see
question III.A.2), giants are mentioned directly only in /The Hobbit/. 
This has led some to doubt their literal existence entirely, but they
do seem to have a firm place in that book: giants (and the destruction
they caused) were seen and heard by everyone, and both Thorin and
Gandalf were worried about them.  Later, Gandalf says "I must see if I
can't find a more or less decent giant" to block up the goblins' new
gate (where the group was captured).  He also mentions them to Beorn. 
It would be difficult to reject giants without rejecting /The Hobbit/
as a canonical source entirely, which Tolkien clearly did not do.  Some
believe that the voices heard by the Fellowship on the Redhorn pass
were giants, or even that Caradhras itself was a "giant" in some sense.

   Three explanations for giants are relatively common.  Perhaps the
most natural is that they are an exceptionally large race of humans.
Another is that they are a very large breed of troll, which could
explain why they are not seen away from the mountains: they would need
very large caves in which to hide from the sun.  Finally, they could be
"nature spirits" associated with mountains (and possibly with storms);
this, too, would explain why they were only seen there. (Some
discussion of this can be found in my essay on Tom Bombadil, mentioned
in question III.B.3) There is no clear evidence for or against any of
these possibilities.



1. Why didn't they just have an Eagle fly the Ring to Mt. Doom?

   This debate is most interesting when limited to "story internal"
arguments (i.e. "Otherwise it would be a dull book" is a cop-out). One
possibility is that there were no Eagles available when they were
needed.  Another common argument is that Mordor was well defended,
while the Eagles were wary even of shepherds with bows.  It may have
been an issue of secrecy: a group of Eagles far from the Misty
Mountains flying toward Mordor might well have drawn Sauron's
attention, and might have even hinted at the plan to destroy the Ring.
Some suggest that like the Istari, the Eagles were forbidden by the
Valar to help so directly.  Another suggestion is that Frodo may have
needed the long journey to (hopefully) develop enough strength of will
to cast the Ring into the Fire.  Many other explanations are seen
repeatedly as well.  In the end, most participants tend to agree that
an Eagle taking the Ring to Mount Doom would not have worked.

   But that is not the end of the discussion.  Even if those objections
are valid, many believe that this topic should have come up at the
Council of Elrond (after all, the book shows discussions of other
flawed options there, like sending the Ring to Bombadil or throwing it
into the Sea).  And some people still think that making use of the
Eagles would have been effective (even if only for part of the journey,
rather than flying all the way to Mordor).  These aspects of the
question remain unresolved.

2. Were the barrow blades magical?  In what way?

   The swords that the Hobbits got from the Barrow Downs were
apparently magical in some way: in "The Departure of Boromir", Aragorn
says this of Merry and Pippin's blades:

   Doubtless the Orcs despoiled them, but feared to keep the knives,
   knowing them for what they are: work of Westernesse, wound about
   with spells for the bane of Mordor.

Some have objected that Men could not use magic "spells", as Tolkien
discusses in Letter #155: "'magic' in this story... is an inherent
power not possessed or attainable by Men as such."  However, against
this in the margin Tolkien wrote, "But the Numenoreans used 'spells' in
making swords?" (and he omitted the whole discussion of magic from the
final version of the letter).

   The magic of the blades is confirmed in /_The Lord of the Rings_: A
Reader's Companion/ by Hammond and Scull.  In their final comment on
the chapter "A Knife in the Dark", they quote from an unpublished
portion of Tolkien's essay "The Hunt for the Ring". Explaining the
Witch-king's thoughts after Weathertop, Tolkien writes that Frodo "had
dared to strike at him with an enchanted sword made by his own enemies
long ago for his destruction", and that a wound from a barrow blade
"would have been as deadly to him as the Mordor-knife [sic] to Frodo
(as was proved in the end)".  /Unfinished Tales/ indicates that all
versions of "The Hunt for the Ring" were written between the
publication of FotR and the completion of RotK, so this reflects
Tolkien's view while writing the story.

   Even apart from this unpublished essay, there are several reasons to
believe that the barrow blades were particularly harmful to the Nazgul.
 A major piece of evidence is the effect of Merry's blade on the Witch
King, as discussed in question III.C.4 (which should be read as part of
this entry).  A related quote comes from Letter #210, where Tolkien
compares that case to what would have happened if Sam had "[sunk] his
blade into the Ringwraith's thigh" on Weathertop: "the result would
have been much the same...: the Wraith would have fallen down and the
sword would have been destroyed."

   In earlier drafts of LotR, the text itself was explicit that the
Nazgul feared the barrow blades: in the chapter "At Rivendell" of /The
Return of the Shadow/, Gandalf refers to them as "the one kind of sword
the Riders fear."  Although no such statement survived into the final
text, it is apparent that this remained Tolkien's intent.  Question
III.C.3 discusses how the barrow blades were part of the reason the
Nazgul did not take the Ring at Weathertop (and should also be read as
part of this entry).

   We know almost nothing about whether the barrow blades had any
special effect on other evil creatures.  In "Flotsam and Jetsam", Merry
says that Ugluk (leader of the Uruk-hai band) took the swords but then
"threw the things away as if they burned him."  However, this may just
be a poetic description of the normal fear mentioned by Aragorn in the
first quote above.

3. Why didn't the Nazgul take the Ring at Weathertop?

   The Nazgul withdrew from Weathertop despite a five-against-one
fighting advantage and with the One Ring almost within their grasp.
Many share Aragorn's confusion about this: "I cannot think why they
have gone and do not attack again."  The true reason appears to have
been a combination of several factors.

   Aragorn's analysis in "Flight to the Ford" is least in part

   I don't think they expected to be resisted...  They will come again
   another night, if we cannot escape.	They are only waiting, because
   they think that their purpose is almost accomplished, and that the
   Ring cannot fly much further.

Many have considered this explanation inadequate: the Ring seems like
too great a prize for the Nazgul to take such foolish caution. Some
quote Letter #210 where Tolkien says that the Nazgul "have no great
physical power against the fearless", arguing that Aragorn was able to
drive them away.  However, this quote does not preclude them from
having "normal" physical power, and the Witch King was willing to do
battle with skilled warriors at other times.

   Tolkien's most detailed explanation of this issue has recently been
published in /_The Lord of the Rings_: A Reader's Companion/ by Hammond
and Scull.  In their final note on "A Knife in the Dark", they quote
from a previously unpublished portion of Tolkien's essay "The Hunt for
the Ring" discussing the Witch-king's thoughts after Weathertop
(already mentioned in question III.C.2).  The first factor mentioned is
that "the Bearer has been marked with the Knife and (he [the
Witch-king] thinks) cannot last more than a day or two".  But more
important, the Witch-king appears to have been afraid:

   Escaping a wound that would have been as deadly to him as the
   Mordor-knife [sic] to Frodo (as was proved in the end), he withdrew
   and hid for a while, out of doubt and /fear/ both of Aragorn and
   especially of /Frodo/.

The excerpt says that his fear of Frodo was a combination of several
factors, including Frodo's ability to resist attack at all, his use of
an "enchanted sword" (presumably gained after overcoming a
Barrow-wight), and his use of the name /Elbereth/, "a name of terror to
the Nazgul" that connected Frodo to the High Elves. Realizing for the
first time that this mission to find the Ring "was one of great peril
to himself", the Witch-king fled, until "fear of Sauron, and the forces
of Sauron's will" drove him back to the hunt. (/Unfinished Tales/
indicates that all versions of "The Hunt for the Ring" were written
between the publication of FotR and the completion of RotK, so this
passage does reflect Tolkien's belief while writing the story.)

   Evidence for much of this can be found in the text itself.  After
remarking that Frodo's sword had not harmed the Witch King, Aragorn
says, "More deadly to [the Witch King] was the name of Elbereth." This
idea is clearer in an early draft: in /The Return of the Shadow/ ("At
Rivendell"), a fragment includes Gandalf saying, "Not to mention
courage - and also swords and a strange and ancient name. Later on I
must be told about that curious sword of yours, and how you knew the
name of Elbereth."  (Presumably Gandalf is discussing this very
question.)  However, the name was probably not a major factor on its
own: in the final text it is Aragorn who comments on "Elbereth", but he
did not attempt to use it during the attack himself.

   As discussed in question III.C.2, the danger to the Nazgul from the
barrow blades can also be guessed from the text, though it is by no
means clear.  The description of the attack on Weathertop is consistent
with the idea that they fear such weapons: after Frodo put on the Ring,
three of the wraiths

   rushed towards him.	Desperate, he drew his own sword, and it seemed
   to him that it flickered red, as if it was a firebrand.  Two of the
   figures halted.  The third... sprang forward and bore down on Frodo.

All of the wraiths seem to have left immediately after the Witch King
stabbed Frodo.  As Frodo was seeing into the "wraith world" with the
Ring on, some read the description of his sword flickering red as an
indication that its magical power was directly visible there. Later, as
half-faded Frodo faces the Nazgul at the Ford, he draws his sword "with
a red flash".  This evidence is not entirely convincing on its own, but
in light of Tolkien's writings in "The Hunt for the Ring" it appears to
be quite solid.

4. Who killed the Witch-king, Merry or Eowyn?

   Most agree that Eowyn's stroke was the immediate cause of the
Witch-king's death: she certainly struck /something/, and his death cry
and disappearance followed immediately after her blow.  The primary
debate is whether Merry's role was simply to provide a distraction, or
whether his sword (taken from the Barrow Downs) was necessary to break
some "spell of protection" that would otherwise have guarded the
Witch-king from harm.

   Question III.C.2 discusses the magical nature of the hobbits' barrow
blades and their effect on the Nazgul.  In the context of Merry's
encounter with the Witch King in "The Battle of the Pelennor Fields",
the crucial statement is that

   No other blade, not though mightier hands had wielded it, would have
   dealt that foe a wound so bitter, cleaving the undead flesh,
   breaking the spell that knit his unseen sinews to his will.

(See question III.C.2 for a related quote and further discussion.) 
Most read this quote as a direct statement that Merry's sword was
especially harmful to the Nazgul, which is confirmed in other writings
(as discussed in the earlier question).  It is less clear what "spell"
is being broken: some read this as a poetic description of a
(nonmagical) collapse due to (possibly magical) great pain, while
others take it to mean that the Nazgul had only indirect, magical
control over their physical bodies.  Based in part on this quote, some
go even farther and suggest that the Witch King was immune to physical
weapons before being hit by the barrow blade.  No clear answer is

   It is worth taking particular note of the quote from portions of
"The Hunt for the Ring" first published in Hammond and Scull's
/Reader's Companion/ (and discussed in questions III.C.2 and III.C.3),
indicating that a wound from a barrow blade "would have been as deadly
to [the Witch-king] as the Mordor-knife [sic] to Frodo (as was proved
in the end)".  The parenthetical remark must refer to Merry's blow, and
could be read in a wide variety of ways.  It might mean that Merry's
blow was indeed the "deadly" one, or that it would have proven deadly
within hours or days if Eowyn had not made the point moot, or simply
that it provided a deadly distraction.

5. Did Frodo and the other mortals who passed over the Sea eventually 

[This updates question V.C.1 of the Tolkien LessFAQ.]

   While he seems to have been initially unsure, Tolkien eventually
made it clear that mortals who sailed to the West would remain mortal. 
In Letter #154, he explains this:

   ...the mythical idea underlying is that for mortals, since their
   'kind' cannot be changed for ever, this is strictly only a temporary
   reward: a healing and redress of suffering.	They cannot abide for
   ever, and though they cannot return to mortal earth, they can and
   will 'die' - of free will, and leave the world.

He makes a similar comment in Letter #246, saying that

   Frodo was sent or allowed to pass over Sea to heal him - if that
   could be done, /before he died/.  He would have eventually to 'pass
   away': no mortal could, or can, abide for ever on earth, or within

   An interesting addendum to these statements can be found in the
appendix to the "Athrabeth Finrod ah Andreth" in /Morgoth's Ring/. 
After explaining that the spirits of dead mortals go to the halls of
Mandos, and that only Mandos and Manwe know where they go "after the
time of recollection in those silent halls", Tolkien makes the
following comment on Frodo:

   The sojourn of Frodo in Eressea - then on to Mandos? - was only an
   extended form of this.  Frodo would eventually leave the world
   (desiring to do so).  So that the sailing in ship was equivalent to

This leads to the fascinating (if uncertain) suggestion that Frodo and
the other mortals who went West may have gone to Mandos while still
physically alive.

6. Did Sam follow Frodo into the West?

   While LotR strongly implies that Sam eventually sailed West, it
never says so explicitly.  In "The Grey Havens", Frodo says to Sam,
"Your time may come."  Appendix B says that in S.Y. 1482, Sam was last
seen by Elanor in the Tower Hills, and that "the tradition [was] handed
down from Elanor that Samwise passed the Towers, and went to the Grey
Havens, and passed over Sea".  However, Letter #154 makes Tolkien's
intent clear.  In it, he writes that

   certain 'mortals'... may pass with the Elves to Elvenhome.  Thus
   Frodo ... and Bilbo, and eventually Sam.

Whether Frodo was still alive when Sam reached Elvenhome is uncertain,
but it does seem possible: in the same letter, Tolkien says that
mortals in the West "can and will 'die' - of free will", so Frodo may
have waited to pass on until Sam arrived.

7. What is known about the Blue Wizards?

[This supplements question V.E.2 of the Tolkien FAQ.]

   The Tolkien FAQ discusses most of what is known about the other two
Istari (out of five).  As explained there, the essay on the Istari in
/Unfinished Tales/ tells us that their names in Valinor were Alatar and
Pallando, and that they went into the east of Middle-earth and did not
return.  In that essay and in Letter #211, Tolkien suggests that they
may have failed in their missions, though he never said that was

   A small amount of new information on the Blue Wizards appeared in
the "Last Writings" section of /The Peoples of Middle-earth/. One
interesting point is that Tolkien seems to have considered the idea
that Saruman "was letting out a piece of private information" when he
revealed their existence by mentioning "the rods of the Five Wizards"
in /The Two Towers/.

   In another passage, Tolkien gives other names for the Blue Wizards,
"Morinehtar" and "Romestamo" ("Darkness-slayer" and "East-helper"), and
suggests that the Blue Wizards came to Middle-earth in the Second Age
(much earlier than the other Istari) in the company of Glorfindel (for
which possibility see question III.B.7).  In this writing, he is
considerably more optimistic about their success:

   They must have had very great influence on the history of the Second
   Age and Third Age in weakening and disarraying the forces of East
   ...	who would both in the Second Age and Third Age otherwise have
   ...	outnumbered the West.

8. Who was aware that a Balrog lived in Moria?

   Sauron almost certainly knew of the Balrog, at least through his
Orcs and very possibly more directly.  The Dwarves knew that "Durin's
Bane" was still in Moria when Dain saw it inside the gate at the battle
of Azanulbizar, but they may not have known what it was: at the Council
of Elrond, Gloin calls it simply "the nameless fear."

   In "Lothlorien", Celeborn tells the Fellowship, "We long have feared
that under Caradhras a terror slept."  This indicates that he wasn't
sure anything was there, and suggests that he did not know the nature
of the "terror".  Similarly, in "The Bridge of Khazad-dum", Gandalf
clearly does not know what to expect: after confronting the Balrog
through the door of the Chamber of Mazarbul, he says, "what it was I
cannot guess".  When the company finally sees it, he says, "A Balrog. 
Now I understand."  If neither Gandalf nor Celeborn knew of its
presence, it seems unlikely that any of the White Council did.

9. Did Elves and Dwarves generally get along?

   In general, Elves and Dwarves were allies against Morgoth and
Sauron.  However, their attitudes toward each other seem to have varied
substantially at different times and places.  In some cases, they were
great friends, while in others they viewed each other with substantial
mistrust.  There are indications of the latter in the Sindarin/Silvan
kingdoms at the time of the War of the Ring, while something
approaching the former held in Rivendell, where Gloin and Gimli were
warmly welcomed.

   Opinions on the frequency of each attitude cover the entire
spectrum.  When Bilbo first meets Elves in /The Hobbit/ ("A Short
Rest"), we read that "They were elves of course. ...Dwarves don't get
on well with them", but that statement is certainly a broad
generalization.  One of the more direct statements on the issue can be
found in the introduction to the Second Age in Appendix B of LotR:

   The Noldor were great craftsmen and less unfriendly to the Dwarves
   than the Sindar; but the friendship that grew up between the people
   of Durin and the Elven-smiths of Eregion was the closest that there
   has ever been between the two races.

In general, this passage seems to imply that unfriendliness between
Elves and Dwarves was common and that true friendship between them was
relatively rare.  However, it also demonstrates that such friendships
did exist.

10. Where was the Ring when Numenor was destroyed?

[This updates question V.E.3 of the Tolkien LessFAQ.]

   This question is answered in detail in Letter #211.  Tolkien says
that when Sauron was taken to Numenor as a prisoner, "he naturally had
the One Ring".  He goes on to say that at the time of the Akallabeth,
"Though reduced to 'a spirit of hatred borne on a dark wind', I do not
think one need boggle at this spirit carrying off the One Ring, upon
which his power of dominating minds now largely depended."  We know
that Sauron could (eventually) rebuild a physical body even in spirit
form, so carrying the Ring to safety seems plausible as well.  (In
fact, the Valar and Maiar must have used this sort of ability to shape
the world in the first place.)

   A passage from "Of the Rings of Power and the Third Age" in /The
Silmarillion/ is sometimes cited as evidence that, contrary to the
statements above, Sauron left the Ring in Mordor before going to
Numenor.  In that essay, after Sauron returned to Middle-earth and
rebuilt his body, "He took up again the great Ring".  However, this is
not a contradiction: according to the Oxford English Dictionary, one
definition of "take up" is

   c. With special obj., implying a purpose of using in some way: as,
   to take up one's pen, to proceed or begin to write; to take up a
   book (i.e. with the purpose to read); to take up the (or one's)
   cross (see CROSS n. 4, 10): to take up ARMS, [etc.]

Some have also argued that Ar-Pharazon would have demanded that Sauron
give him the Ring, but (again in Letter #211) Tolkien says that "I do
not think Ar-Pharazon knew anything about the One Ring."

11. Who was the oldest inhabitant of Middle-earth?

   The answer depends on exactly what the question means.  Below are
listed a number of possible answers (as of the end of the Third Age),
starting from the oldest.

   1. Eru Iluvatar, the Creator... but he never inhabited Ea itself.

   2. The Ainur (including Sauron, Gandalf, etc.): they existed before
       the Music that gave Middle-earth form.

   3. Tom Bombadil.  In addition to his direct claim that he is
       "Eldest" (confirmed at the Council of Elrond), he says that he
       "was here before the river and the trees", and that he
       "remembers the first raindrop and the first acorn".  If he is
       one of the Ainur, this implies that he was the first of them to
       enter Middle-earth; if not, it probably means he was the first
       "native" inhabitant.

   4. Some trees in Fangorn (and maybe elsewhere): Treebeard says that
       in some parts of his forest, "the trees are older than I am."

   5. Treebeard.  Gandalf tells Theoden that he is "the eldest and
       chief of the Ents, and when you speak with him you will hear the
       speech of the oldest of all living things." (Given #4, Gandalf
       must actually mean something like "speaking living things", and
       given #2 and #3 he must be using a specific definition of

If any of the Fathers of the Dwarves were alive (having been
"reincarnated"), they might fall between #4 and #5.  As any living Elf
would certainly be one of Gandalf's "living things", all of them must
be younger than Treebeard.  (Although the Ents awoke only after the
Elves, this does not prove that none of the "First Elves" remained
alive: Treebeard could conceivably have existed as a normal tree before
awakening as an Ent.)



   While this FAQ is intended to provide a complete introduction to
discussions of Tolkien and his works online, there is clearly far more
information available than could be recorded in a single document. 
Some frequently asked questions require a more substantial answer that
could possibly be given here.  In this section are collected a few
resources that address such questions.  (Only resources that address
specific questions asked frequently in the newsgroups are included
here: this is not an attempt to list all of the excellent Tolkien web
sites in existence.)

   Because most of these resources are located on the World Wide Web
rather than on Usenet, it is always possible that they could move or
disappear without notice.  A reasonable effort will be made to ensure
that the addresses here remain valid, but if these resources go away
there really isn't much that we can do about it.  (Please do let me
know if a link here is broken.)



1. The Tolkien Meta-FAQ

   The Tolkien Meta-FAQ is not a resource of its own, but a unified
index to this FAQ and the other FAQs listed in this section.  By
organizing all of their content in a consistent way with
cross-references where appropriate, it will hopefully make finding the
answers you want faster and easier.  It is on the web at


2. The Tolkien FAQ and LessFAQ

   Years ago, William D. B. Loos compiled two superb lists of
frequently asked questions and answers.  They are well written and well
documented, and most of the conclusions that they reach have stood the
test of time (some have even been strengthened by information that has
been published since they were written).  They are posted to the
newsgroups roughly every four weeks.  For convenience, they are also
available in HTML form; the web addresses follow, along with each FAQ's

   The Tolkien FAQ consists of "Frequently Asked Questions about the
author J.R.R. Tolkien: questions commonly raised by the first reading
of /The Hobbit/ or /The Lord of the Rings/; details of the background
mythology and invented history which relate directly to the stories;
biographical matters."  It is on the web at


   The Tolkien LessFAQ consists of "Less Frequently Asked Questions
about the author J.R.R. Tolkien: questions on his lesser known works;
questions on deeper and/or more obscure details of the invented
history, background mythology, and matters philological and
theological."  It is on the web at


3. The "FAQ of the Rings"

   Questions about the Rings of Power arise quite frequently in
discussions of Tolkien's work, and it would be difficult to do them all
justice in a general FAQ like this one.  Because of this, Stan Brown
has created a "FAQ of the Rings" addressing many such questions in
depth.  It can be found at


4. The Letters FAQ

   Many of the questions that arise in discussions of Tolkien's works
are addressed in his letters, collected in /The Letters of J.R.R.
Tolkien/.  As it can be difficult to find the letters that relate to a
given topic, Mike Brinza has compiled a list of common questions and
where to look for their answers.  This can be found at

5. Google's Usenet archive

   The only way to learn the details of all the positions in a debate
on the newsgroups is to read the debates themselves.  The best Usenet
archive currently available is hosted by Google, which contains posts
all the way back to the founding of Usenet in the 1980's.  Google's
advanced newsgroup search page is at


To search specifically on the Tolkien groups, enter "*tolkien" in the
"Newsgroup" field (without the quotes, of course).  The main interface
on this page is mostly self-explanatory, and should be familiar to
anyone who has used a web search engine.



   One of Tolkien's primary motivations for creating Middle-earth and
its history was to provide a home for the languages that he invented.
The interest in those languages among his readers has given rise to
many books, journals, web sites, and other resources for those who wish
to learn them, and we could not even begin to list them here.

   Perhaps the best list of such resources can be found at the Elvish
Linguistic Fellowship web site:


For actual details regarding the languages themselves, one of the best
web sites is Ardalambion, located at


A group of excellent Truetype fonts for writing in Tengwar and Cirth
(together with a good introduction to using those alphabets) can be
found at Dan Smith's Fantasy Fonts for Windows page:




1. What editions of Tolkien's books in the US are best?

   Every edition of Tolkien's books is different, and before you buy a
copy it's worth knowing what those differences are.  Mike Brinza has
created an excellent guide to the editions of Tolkien's books currently
available in the United States, which is on the web at

   One book that deserves its own mention is /The Hobbit/: many find
that /The Annotated Hobbit/, edited by Douglas A. Anderson, is the most
satisfying edition of the story.  It contains illustrations from many
other editions, as well as detailed commentary on the text and its
history (which can, of course, be ignored if you're not interested).

2. What audio versions of Tolkien's books are available?

   A variety of verbatim audio book recordings and adapted
dramatizations of Tolkien's books have been produced over the years. A
good overview of these can be found at Mike Brinza's site:

   Even those who are not interested in audio books or radio plays
should take note of the recordings of Tolkien himself that are
available.  In particular, /The J.R.R. Tolkien Audio Collection/ is a
set of four CDs including J.R.R. Tolkien reading and singing excerpts
from /The Hobbit/, /The Lord of the Rings/, and /The Adventures of Tom
Bombadil/, as well as Christopher Tolkien reading lengthy passages from
/The Silmarillion/.  Separate recordings of interviews with Tolkien are
also available.

3. What is the groups' view of the recent /Lord of the	Rings/ movies?

   By this point, virtually everyone with any interest in Peter
Jackson's /Lord of the Rings/ movie trilogy is already quite familiar
with them.  Detailed information on the movies is inappropriate for a
general FAQ, but there are many websites dedicated to the project.  One
good place to start is


   Tolkien fans' opinions on the movies vary enormously.  Most (but
certainly not all) of those on the Tolkien newsgroups who have seen the
films seem to have enjoyed the experience, but most found at least some
aspects of them quite disappointing, too.  (The second and third movies
deviated from the books more than the first one did, and generated
correspondingly more frustration.)  This is obviously a matter of
personal taste, so it is important to be polite to those whose reaction
was different than yours.  In the end, Peter Jackson's own words are as
good a description as any: "Sure, it's not really THE LORD OF THE RINGS
... but it could still be a pretty damn cool movie."

   Discussing the movies on the newsgroups is certainly allowed: the
rec.arts.books.tolkien charter explains that "The group would be open
to discussion about art works which are based on Tolkien's works (e.g.
graphic depictions of scenes from his worlds, musical settings of his
ballads and poetry)."  There has been a mild effort to limit movie-only
discussions to, so that those who prefer to avoid movie
talk can stay in r.a.b.t, but this is less important now that
movie-related discussion has died down somewhat.

4. Where can I find out about music related to Middle-earth?

   Many musicians have been inspired by Tolkien's books, enough that
this FAQ could not hope to list them. Instead, we refer you to the
Tolkien Music List by Chris Seeman, at


The list is organized alphabetically by artist, and the lyrics for each
song can be found by clicking on its title.  The artist/title list is
all on one page, which makes it possible to search for a title, but be
aware that the page is very large and may take some time to load.

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Last Update March 27 2014 @ 02:12 PM