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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 These sources contain a wealth of information, but are no longer maintained (the last update seems to have been in July 1996).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 documents. 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 http://tolkien.slimy.com/faq/ The plain text version is posted to Usenet on the 22nd of each month and is also available on the web, at http://tolkien.slimy.com/faq/TolkNgFaq.txt For a unified and easy to use interface to this FAQ, the Loos FAQs, and others, consider visiting the Tolkien Meta-FAQ, at http://tolkien.slimy.com/ 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 email@example.com ------------------------------------------------------------------------ ------------------------------------------------------------------------ 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 Rings/? 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/ movies? 4. Where can I find out about music related to Middle-earth? ------------------------------------------------------------------------ ------------------------------------------------------------------------ I. CHANGES SINCE THE LAST RELEASE 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). ------------------------------------------------------------------------ ------------------------------------------------------------------------ II. NEWSGROUPS AND NETIQUETTE 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. ------------------------------------------------------------------------ II.A. INFORMATION ON THE TOLKIEN NEWSGROUPS 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 alt.fan.tolkien, 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 http://tolkien.slimy.com/newsgroups/RABTcharter.txt Alt.fan.tolkien 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 avoided. 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 ------------------------------------------------------------------------ II.B. THE BASICS OF NETIQUETTE 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 above). 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 http://tolkien.slimy.com/newsgroups/EssayDiscuss.txt 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: alt.fan.tolkien,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 behavior. ------- 5. If someone insults me or otherwise makes me upset, should I flame them back? No. 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 altogether. ------- 7. Where can I go for more information on netiquette, and on Usenet in general? 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 ftp://rtfm.mit.edu/pub/usenet/news.announce.newusers/ 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 http://users.rcn.com/kateshort/nnq/nnqlinks.html (among many other places). ------------------------------------------------------------------------ ------------------------------------------------------------------------ III. DEBATES AND DISCUSSION 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 mythology). ------------------------------------------------------------------------ III.A. STORY EXTERNAL QUESTIONS 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 http://tolkien.slimy.com/books.html (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: http://tolkien.slimy.com/essays/TolkParish.html.] 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 http://tolkien.slimy.com/publist.html That static list still contains a link to the customizable version. ------- 3. How does /The Silmarillion/ as published differ from what Tolkien intended? 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 ), 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 discussion. * /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. http://tolkien.slimy.com/essays/DayBooks.html * /The Tolkien Companion/, by J.E.A. Tyler. http://tolkien.slimy.com/essays/TylerBook.html * /The Languages of Tolkien's Middle-earth/, by Ruth Noel. http://www.elvish.org/articles/LRH.html ------- 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 U.K. ------------------------------------------------------------------------ III.B. STORY INTERNAL QUESTIONS: CREATURES AND CHARACTERS 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: http://tolkien.slimy.com/essays/TAB6.html. 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: http://tolkien.slimy.com/essays/TAB6.html. 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: http://tolkien.slimy.com/essays/Bombadil.html] 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: http://tolkien.slimy.com/essays/Ears.html.] 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 second. (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 inescapable. ------- 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 Hen".) 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 http://www.elvish.org/). 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 here. ------- 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, immovable. 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 questions: 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 Sauron. ------- 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 creatures. 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 Fangorn: 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 question. 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 understand." 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 suggested. 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. ------------------------------------------------------------------------ III.C. STORY INTERNAL QUESTIONS: HISTORY AND HAPPENINGS 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 accurate: 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 known. 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 die? [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 Time. 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 death. 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 certain. 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 "living".) 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.) ------------------------------------------------------------------------ ------------------------------------------------------------------------ IV. EXTERNAL RESOURCES 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.) ------------------------------------------------------------------------ IV.A. WHERE ELSE CAN I FIND GENERAL INFORMATION ABOUT MIDDLE-EARTH? 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 http://tolkien.slimy.com/ ------- 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 summary. 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 http://tolkien.slimy.com/tfaq/ 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 http://tolkien.slimy.com/tlfaq/ ------- 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 http://oakroadsystems.com/genl/ringfaq.htm ------- 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 http://users.telerama.com/~taliesen/tolkien/lettersfaq.html ------- 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 http://groups-beta.google.com/advanced_search 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. ------------------------------------------------------------------------ IV.B. WHERE CAN I LEARN MORE ABOUT TOLKIEN'S LANGUAGES? 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: http://www.elvish.org/resources.html For actual details regarding the languages themselves, one of the best web sites is Ardalambion, located at http://www.uib.no/People/hnohf/index.html 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: http://www.geocities.com/TimesSquare/4948/ ------------------------------------------------------------------------ IV.C. STORIES OF MIDDLE-EARTH IN MANY FORMS 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 http://users.telerama.com/~taliesen/tolkien/editions.html 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: http://users.telerama.com/~taliesen/tolkien/tolkien-audio.html 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 http://www.theonering.net/movie/faq/ 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 alt.fan.tolkien, 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 http://www.tolkien-music.com/ 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.