Rereading the Lord of the Rings

I was twelve years old when I first read The Lord of the Rings. Throughout most of my adolescence I reread it every year. I used to dream I was in Middle-earth walking through the dark paths of Mirkwood or staying in Rivendell and listening to songs and stories being told in the Hall of Fire.

In my adult life I’ve read it less frequently. I think the last time I read it was in 2014. For the moment I’m just reading a chapter before I go to sleep as I like taking my time and meandering through it. Middle-earth is always a good place to escape to when I’m feeling troubled or in need of a journey.

Though the films were shot in my country I’ve never really liked them that much: too many odd changes and condensing for my liking I guess. Also there have been decades of Lord of the Rings and Middle-earth inspired art, yet these days all the images seem to be ones based on the films. So much for imagination. To be honest I’ve never been a great fan of film adaptations.

Tolkien began writing The Lord of the Rings in 1938 when Allen and Unwin asked for a sequel to The Hobbit. As he wrote it, the story got longer and darker. He eventually finished it in the late 1940s. He first sent the manuscript to Collins, along with a version of The Silmarillion (as he felt the book couldn’t be understood without knowledge of the events of the First Age) in 1950, but it was rejected. In the end he gave The Lord of the Rings (without The Silmarillion) to Allen and Unwin, though he felt it wasn’t the sequel they had initially asked for. Many people refer to The Lord of the Rings as a trilogy, but it isn’t true technically. It was a single book that was split into three by the publishers due to a paper shortage at the time. It was eventually published during 1954-55.

At the moment the Fellowship has just set out from the safety of Rivendell and I am happily following them as they approach the Misty Mountains unaware of the troubles they will encounter. Once I finish this I’m planning to read The Silmarillion again.

Do you have any books you like to read regularly?

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©2021 Joanne Fisher

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Tolkien’s Illustrations (article)

Not only was J.R.R. Tolkien a writer, but he could also draw. In fact it was a calendar of Tolkien’s drawings from The Hobbit that introduced me to his world of Middle-earth when I was six years old. So as I’m not really in the mood for writing at the moment, here are some of my favourite drawings of his.

Also, I’ve added two further index pages to my blog so people can now easily access my Star Wars and Middle-earth related posts.

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J.R.R. Tolkien

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John Ronald Reuel Tolkien was born in 1892 and died in 1973. He is best known for The Hobbit (published in 1937) and The Lord of the Rings (published 1954-55). His books have left a lasting impact on the world, both in literature as well as the popular consciousness. Since I’ve done articles on both H.P. Lovecraft and Ursula K. Le Guin, I thought it was time I wrote about my favourite author. Like the previous two this will be a discussion on how I discovered his works and how his writing has influenced me.

I think I’ve previously written that I became aware of Tolkien when I found a copy of The Hobbit in the living room bookshelf when I was seven years old and started reading it, mostly because it had a dragon on the cover. This isn’t quite the truth. The year before this my family was given a calendar of Tolkien’s drawings from The Hobbit by a family friend and that was when I first noticed Tolkien. I was particularly drawn to the picture of The Lonely Mountain with Smaug flying around it. I imagined I was there at the foot of the mountain watching the dragon flying above. It gave me chills. So when I found the copy of The Hobbit a year later I already had a good idea of what it was about.

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The Lonely Mountain by J.R.R. Tolkien

When I was 11 I began reading The Lord of the Rings, and then I tackled The Silmarillion when I was 13. I did read The Silmarillion from cover to cover then, but a lot of it did go over my head at the time. It was only when I read it again when I was older did I learn to appreciate it more. In fact my love for The Silmarillion grows ever more stronger the older I get.  Tolkien spent most of his life writing the tales that made up The Silmarillion. It was his life’s work and he began writing the first versions of it during the First World War when he was in the trenches. Tolkien was a very talented linguist. He had a knack for learning new languages, and he also at a young age began to make up his own and from that came his Elvish languages Quenya and Sindarin. Having created these languages he began writing the history of the people that spoke them and thus his world of Middle-earth was born. Many of the main stories of The Silmarillion, such as Beren and LĂșthien, The Fall of Gondolin, and The Children of HĂșrin existed very early on his mythology. He was always striving to find a way to tell the stories of what is now known as the First Age of Middle-earth that would engage the reader. His first attempt was The Book of Lost Tales written in notebooks during the Battle of the Some in 1916. In this first version Eriol the Sailor comes to the island of Tol EressĂ«a and has the history of the Elves recounted to him in the Cottage of Lost Play.

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Glorund sets forth to seek Turin by J.R.R. Tolkien (1927)

 

The main problem with completing The Silmarillion was that primarily it was the major work he focused on during his creative life and he ended up writing various different versions of all the tales. Some were brief and some were expanded, but sadly, a lot were left unfinished. When Tolkien’s son Christopher came to edit a publishable version of The Silmarillion he had years of writings to go through with many different versions of the same stories. This is why the book Unfinished Tales, and the History of Middle-earth series came to be published in the 1980s and 90s, as there were so many writings and different versions left unpublished. If you read the History of Middle-earth series you can see the various different versions of The Silmarillion’s stories through the years. Unfinished Tales has a wonderful narrative of Tuor’s coming to Gondolin that cuts off rather abruptly. I really wish he had finished it. Tolkien maintained that there were four major stories in The Silmarillion: Beren and Luthien, The Children of Hurin, The Fall of Gondolin, and The Voyage of EĂ€rendil. It’s interesting to see that three of them now have their own stand alone versions. It is unlikely that The Voyage of EĂ€rendil will ever be published on its own however*. While Tolkien counted it as one the major stories compared to the others he didn’t write that much about it, though you could argue it was the first thing in Middle-earth he wrote about as the poem “The Voyage of EĂ€rendel the Evening Star” was written in 1914. The name Ă©arendel comes from Anglo-Saxon meaning “luminous wanderer” possibly referring to the morning star, what we now know is the planet Venus. Tolkien was struck by the “great beauty” of the name which is why he came to write the poem and subsequently incorporate the name and the voyage in the poem into his own mythology.

As Tolkien was always trying find a vehicle to tell the stories of the First Age of Middle-earth you could say that in a way The Lord of the Rings served that function. Through it stories are told of earlier times and there are references to earlier heroes or instances. That’s what I like about Tolkien’s writings about Middle-earth: you feel the depth of history in them. Along with the different languages and cultures you feel like it is a real place you can escape to. The history of the Elves is quite sad and tragic. Everything of beauty and power they make is stolen from them, corrupted, or used against them. Galadriel says “together through ages of the world we have fought the long defeat.” (The Lord of the Rings, p.376) which is pretty much how Elves see their own history in Middle-earth. By the Third Age, even with the Dark Lord Sauron defeated, the Elves know that they too will diminish and end up leaving Middle-earth for ever. There is an elegiac quality to these writings which is probably a reason why I connect with them so well.

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Tolkien’s drawing of Rivendell

At some point I plan to do an article on Tolkien’s other works. For me the stand out one is Smith of Wootton Major. While Tolkien has written that he dislikes allegory, this story definitely has allegorical elements about his own life. In this story Smith has a fay star stuck to his head since childhood which allows him to wander freely about the land of Faery (or you could call it Elfland or Fairyland, etc.) which he does for most of his life until one day he has to give it up. It is a bittersweet tale that Tolkien wrote in the late 1960s that you could say is also about Tolkien’s own wanderings in Faery (or Middle-earth) and that he knew it was also coming to an end. Farmer Giles of Ham is a good story too. I think it would make a really good animated film and I wonder why no one seems to have really thought about it. I’m not a great fan of film or TV adaptations of Tolkien’s works and I would prefer that cameras are kept out of Middle-earth, which probably sounds weird for someone from New Zealand to say since the films were shot here, but I think Farmer Giles is one that would work quite well as a film. It has a really interesting dragon in it too, but then again I love dragons and any dragon is interesting to me.

Another reason why I like The Lord of the Rings is that even though it is a fantasy novel I do believe it’s a story for our modern age. Which is why I think so many people have connected with it even though it’s a book set in a forgotten age of our world and has an anti-technological sentiment but is read by people living very much in a technological society. I will talk more about this in a separate article. I did begin to discuss this and 500 words on I was only partly the way through my explanation, so I have saved it and it will be an article I will work on for another day rather than make this one over three thousand words. Let’s just say here that Tolkien’s writings are often grappling with the moral dilemmas of our time which is one reason why I think people connect with it.  And there’s also escapism of course. The desire to escape the world we live in, even if it’s just for a brief moment, is often not considered important or worthy, but I think it’s an understandable desire given the world we live in.

 

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The cover for The Hobbit which Tolkien drew himself

Tolkien himself has been a great influence on me. I count him as one of the people that acts as a soul guide (for want of a better expression) for me, helping to guide me through the darkness and delineate right from wrong. In fact when times are very bleak for me that is when I tend reach for his writings. They have got me through some very dark periods of my life and for that I’m grateful I know his books. His writings teach me to be aware of corruption in all it’s forms and to not give into the darkness. Because of Tolkien I spent most of my adolescence reading my way through a large chunk of the fantasy literature that was available at the time. I don’t even know if I would have wanted to be a writer if I hadn’t encountered The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings at such an early age. His books stirred something in me and fired my imagination. Yes I have written a lot of contemporary poetry and stories but my heart truly belongs in Elfland. It was Tolkien that showed me that. And though I’m currently working on a fantasy novel, and even if I’m able to get better as a writer, I feel I’ll never be in the same league as him, not with all the power and imagination he had. All the different languages he made, the weight of history you can feel in his works, the immeasurable sadness of the world, it would be truly difficult to replicate that or do something similar, not unless I committed to it and made it a life’s work like he did, and even then…

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Tolkien beside his favourite tree. He died not long after this photograph was taken.

I feel sorry for people who say they don’t like Tolkien. I think it’s sad they will never find the joy and solace that I do in his works. But each to their own. I know it’s not for everyone. Along with music and Star Wars, Middle-earth has kept me in one piece so far. I guess you find what works for you, whatever keeps you anchored to the world and use that to get you through life’s trials. For me the works of Tolkien do this. It’s always good to know there is another world I can escape to if I have need of it. In this world there are intelligent but very dangerous dragons, Wizards, Elves living deeply in the forest, Human heroes helping to fight against the encroaching darkness, giant spiders, magic rings, tall towers and fortifications, sentient tree-like beings, giant wolves, Ringwraiths riding winged steeds, to name a few. All these things, along with a compelling story is what gets me opening a book and regularly returning to the amazing world of Middle-earth.

 

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The map from The Hobbit

 

*Foretelling is not one of my gifts. See my article on Rey and The Force Awakens for proof of this. Knowing my luck as soon as I publish this article a book for The Voyage of EĂ€rendil and the War of Wrath will be announced in the media. Just watch.

Reference

Tolkien, J.R.R. The Lord of the Rings (Unwin Paperbacks, London, 1978)

 

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Finding Valinor (poem)

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Earendil the Mariner by Jenny Dolfen

 

Finding Valinor

 

Fleeing the shadow

we try to get to Valinor

to ask the Valar’s aid

but each time blown back

by repelling winds

 

one night

the Moon’s illumination showing

EĂ€rendil with his golden hair

standing at the prow

of the Vingilot

a white dove lands &

transforms into Elwing

bearing the Silmaril

 

EĂ€rendil binds it to his brow &

burns our way through the mists

& winds, until finally we see

the shores of Eldamar

 

Joanne Fisher

 

At the moment I’m writing an article on Tolkien. One of the things I discuss in it is the story of the Voyage of EĂ€rendil. One of the stories I’ve always liked. I thought it would be interesting to write a poem about it as I’ve never written a poem using Tolkien’s stories and characters before. Using the word prompt of illumination also allowed me to keep it to only 73 words which created a nice challenge for me. The word prompt also gave the image of the moon illuminating EĂ€rendil at the prow of the ship, which is why I thought of writing it.

The poem was written from the perspective of one of the three other sailors that accompanied him on the voyage.

This was written using the word prompt illumination from the post by Sammi Cox.

 

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From The Bookshelf: My Favourite Tolkien Books

I thought I would share the treasures from my bookshelf, in particularly my favourite books I have by Tolkien. Some of these books in this article are ones I picked up relatively recently, though some I got here and there a while ago now. They are in no particular order and the date provided is the year that particular edition was published.

The Silmarillion (1977)

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This is the edition of The Silmarillion I reread or check for information. It has a nice solid feel to it and an attractive font. I paid $15 for it in a second hand bookshop a few years ago. There’s a slight tear in the front top left dust jacket. The fact I consult this book so often doesn’t help its condition either. I love Tolkien’s own illustrations that are on both the front and the back covers. They are emblems of various different characters from The Silmarillion. The front cover is LĂșthien TinĂșviel. I watched a video recently which suggested these types of illustrations that Tolkien did were reminiscent of mandalas.

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The back cover emblems are Fingolfin (top left), EÀrendil (top right), Idril Celebrindal (centre), Elwë (bottom left), and Fëanor (bottom right).

Unfinished Tales (2000)

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Unfinished Tales first appeared in 1980, but this is the HarperCollins edition from 2000. Again the cover is Tolkien’s own illustration of the dragon Glaurung leaving Nargothrond. For some reason this book always feels a bit narrow. It has a reasonably thick paper and a good sized font. This book provided such important information for people interested in Middle-earth. It provided more fleshed out narratives both of Tuor coming to Gondolin and the story of Turin Turambar. It also included the line of Kings of NĂșmenor, the history of Galadriel and Celeborn, and information on the DrĂședain, the Istari, and the palantĂ­ri, among other things. Worth dipping in if you’re into Middle-earth lore.

The Lord of the Rings (1992)

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I’ve got three editions of the Lord of the Rings. I used to have five but I had to sell two as I needed the money at the time. This is from the centenary of Tolkien’s birth in 1992. HarperCollins commissioned Alan Lee to provide illustrations for it and I do like his vision of Middle-earth. I always have preferred to read the books in the separate volumes rather than just the one volume edition. I got volumes two and three mixed up when I took this photo. The front covers show Rivendell for The Fellowship of the Ring, Shelob and the path to Cirith Ungol for The Two Towers, and the Battle of Pelennor Fields for The Return of the King.

The Hobbit 50th Anniversary Edition (1987)

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This is the pride and joy of my book collection. I love this edition of The Hobbit. They brought back the original cover of The Hobbit which was drawn by Tolkien and they made the Sun and Smaug (on the back cover) the colour red as Tolkien originally wanted. They use a lovely thick paper and there are wonderful colour and black & white illustrations by Tolkien all through the book. There is also a new Foreword in the book written by Christopher Tolkien which includes some additional illustrations. I love reading this edition though I try to be careful when handling it. I also have two other editions of The Hobbit.

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The back cover of The Hobbit. Notice the red Smaug. Sorry the photo is a bit blurry.
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Conversation With Smaug: One of my favourite illustrations by Tolkien.

The Children of HĂșrin (2007)

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It was nice to have a more fleshed out and complete version of the tale of TĂșrin Turambar and his sister Nienor (Niniel). It includes colour and black & white illustrations by Alan Lee. It has a very sad ending. There was amusing news when it came out that some Hollywood producers wanted the film rights to this book. They obviously didn’t know the tale that well which includes incest and suicide by both the main characters. I couldn’t see them staying true to the ending of it if it was made as a Hollywood film.

The Father Christmas Letters (1976 though I suspect this is a reprint)

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The Father Christmas Letters compiles some of the letters that Tolkien wrote to his children every Christmas as Father Christmas. Along with the wonderful illustrations there are various stories of Father Christmas, Polar Bear, and the Elves as they battle against goblins, or sometimes Father Christmas having to deal with the after effects of Polar Bear doing something stupid. These letters were mostly written in the 1920s and 30s, and you can see a similarity with some of the events that happen in The Hobbit, which at that point he was yet to write. In a way you can see it as a catalyst to his later works. I love all the illustrations he did for these letters and the lovely colour selection of mostly yellow, red and green. I only have a paperback version of this book, but it’s still a lovely edition to look through.

The Road Goes Ever On (1978 Second Edition)

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This book was co-written with Donald Swann (of Flanders and Swann). Initially it was just meant to be the written music that Swann had set to some of the poems and songs from The Lord of the Rings, but Tolkien also added notes and translations to the Elvish song NamĂĄriĂ« that was sung by Galadriel when the Fellowship leaves Lothlorien and Swann included in the song cycle, and also A Elbereth Gilthoniel, a chant that Frodo heard while in Rivendell. The second edition also includes the words and music for Bilbo’s Last Song which was handed to Swann not long after Tolkien’s death by Joy Hill, Tolkien’s secretary. I was overjoyed to find this copy in a second hand bookshop as it seems to be extremely hard to find. The dust jacket is very tattered, but the interior is in good condition with paper that is a yellow creme colour. I would love to have a first edition of this one day.

Roverandom (1998)

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Tolkien’s son Michael lost his toy dog on a beach during a holiday in 1925. Tolkien came up with this story to console him. In the story the dog is turned into a toy by a wizard and ends up having adventures on the moon and under the sea. Tolkien is believed to have written the story down in 1927 and then it wasn’t published until 1998, over 70 years later. It was first submitted for publication in 1937, but was turned down by Unwin. It’s quite a nice little story and with a few illustrations by Tolkien that he drew around the time he was writing it.

The Lord of the Rings (Millennium Edition)

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As is pointed out in this edition, the Lord of the Rings wasn’t actually meant to be a trilogy. It was one book that got separated into three volumes by the publishers. It is however six books, and this edition gives each book it’s own separate volume, and an additional one for the appendices. I quite like this edition, and the last few times I’ve read the Lord of the Rings it was this one I read. It also came with a disc of Tolkien reading out parts of the text and a rather haunting rendition of NamĂĄriĂ« that he chants. This edition corrected many mistakes that had existed in the Lord of the Rings text for some time, though the 50th anniversary edition which came out four years later was even more accurate.

The History of Middle-Earth Series:

The Book of Lost Tales 1 (1983)

The Book of Lost Tales 2 (1984)

The Lays of Beleriand (1985)

The Shaping of Middle-Earth (1986)

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One thing I was doing before my funds ran out was collecting the History of Middle-earth series in hardback. I managed to get the first four volumes, but I will have to get the remaining eight volumes some other time. I got these ones fairly cheaply by shopping around on places like eBay and Abebooks. I do have volumes 9 and 12 in hardback too, but they are the American editions which I bought without seeing a picture of them and was disappointed when I received them, but they’ll do for now. These editions have got such lovely thick paper. I do have the other volumes in paperback, but it’s not the same…

The Hobbit (1997)

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This edition is illustrated by Alan Lee. It’s a very beautiful edition to look at. The paper is glossy with a big font and with black & white and colour illustrations all through the book. My only quibble with the illustrations is that Smaug the Golden lying on his dragon hoard looks rather brown instead of the red he should be, but that’s only a minor thing I guess.

Poems and Stories (1992)

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This collects a lot of Tolkien’s shorter works such as The Adventures of Tom Bombadil and Farmer Giles of Ham. The cover illustration is by Alan Lee, but all the interior illustrations are done by Pauline Baynes whose work I’ve always liked. My favourite shorter piece by Tolkien is Smith of Wootton Major which is an allegorical piece about visiting Faerie. Smith, who has a fay star on his head, is able to wander the lands of Faerie at will and sees incredible sights there. What I think Tolkien is talking about is the ability to wander around Faerie in his imagination and this allows him to write all the incredible and amazing things he does. One day I might go into this a bit further. Like the Silmarillion this book has a nice solid feel to it. The paper has a grainy texture to it.

The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien (1990)

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I value this book because Tolkien’s letters contain a lot of valuable information regarding Middle-earth. I only have this book in paperback, and I consult it regularly if I’m looking for some information, whether it’s for an article or just some private musing. It is worth dipping into this. You get his thoughts on a variety of topics and he answers many interesting questions from people who loved his works that can often clarify some things, whether it is what the Crown of Gondor looks like (which he draws a picture of) or why Gandalf was sent back after being killed by the Balrog, etc. There are many answers in this book.

I also have the books The Legend of Sigurd & Gudrun, The Fall of Arthur, The Story of Kullervo, and Beowulf in hardback but I didn’t have much to say about them here though they are all beautiful publications. I don’t have the recent releases of  The Lay of Aotrou & Itroun or Beren and LĂșthien yet, though when I have the money to afford books again they are both at the top of my list. Hopefully I will still be able to get them in hardback when I can afford them.

I hope you enjoyed this look at some of my favourite books from my bookshelves.

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Who Were The Istari?

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The Istari were an order of Wizards that came to Middle-earth around 1000 Third Age from the West to help the free peoples against the rising power of Sauron. A lot of people will know individual members of this Order such as Gandalf and Saruman. There were five of them and in the end only one of them completed the job he was sent to do, while the other four seemingly failed. The Order of Istari were all comprised of Maiar, angelic-like beings that were servants of the Valar, and it was the Valar attempting to indirectly help the Humans. Elves, and Dwarves in their struggles against the Dark Lord of Mordor. This article will look at the Istari and who they were by first of all briefly discussing the cosmology of Arda (the World), and in particularly what were the Valar and the Maiar. Secondly I will identify the specific members of the Order (as well as I can as Tolkien didn’t say a lot about several of them) including their Maiar names and the names they were given when they were in Middle-earth, and in what order they arrived, and lastly I will discuss what the Istari did in Middle-earth and how they helped defeat Sauron. Though in the end at least one seemed to almost hinder this outcome rather than help.

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Ainulindale by Alassea Earello

Arda was created when the Ainur, who were angelic beings, sang it into creation under the prompting and direction of Eru or IlĂșvatar (The One). Some of these Ainur decided to go down into the world to live and to help get it ready for the Children of IlĂșvatar, the Elves and Men, who were placed in Middle-earth to wake at a later time. The Ainur who chose to go and live in Arda had to do it under the condition that their power would be contained and bounded within the World until the end. These Ainur were named the Valar and there were fourteen of them. With them came other spirits “of the same order as the Valar but of less degree” (The Silmarillion, p.30) and they were the Maiar, the servants and helpers of the Valar. The Maiar were of varying power. There was also one more Ainur who entered the world. He had sung discord into the theme of Creation and unlike the Valar, who wanted to help and guide the Children of IlĂșvatar, he wanted to dominate them and be their king. He also claimed the whole of Arda as his own domain. His name was Melkor, later called Morgoth (Sindarin, ‘Dark Enemy [of the World]’) by the Elves, and he was the first Dark Lord. The history of the First Age of Middle-earth was the struggle of the Children of IlĂșvatar against this dark power. He was eventually defeated by the Host of the Valar at the end of the First Age, though his lieutenant, Sauron, who was a powerful Maiar and also known as Gorthaur the Cruel, managed to escape the destruction of Angband and became a Dark Lord in his own right in the Second and Third Ages of the World. After being defeated at the end of the Second Age Sauron slowly regained power. His Ring had not been destroyed, so his spirit was still within the world and able to slowly recover. The Valar were aware that Sauron was rebuilding and they knew that the enemies of the Dark Lord would need their help, but rather than directly intervening in the affairs of Middle-earth they decided to be more subtle about it this time. Their solution was to send five Maiar to Middle-earth to give advice and help to all the free peoples who opposed Sauron. These Maiar were selected from servants of the Valar and sent to Middle-earth in the guise of Wizards.

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Gandalf by John Howe

Before the Istari arrived in Middle-earth they took the guise of old men who aged very slowly. Being incarnate their bodies were capable of pain, hunger, weariness, and able to be slain. Also being incarnate meant they could also be likely to stray, or err, from their mission. They were forbidden to unveil their full power, or to dominate the Children of IlĂșvatar by force or fear. They were there to give advice and to unite all who opposed Sauron. The first to arrive was Curumo. He was the most powerful and the Head of the Order and wore white robes. The Elves named him CurunĂ­r (Sindarin, ‘Man of Craft’), while Men in the North called him Saruman. He was the servant of AulĂ«, the Smith of the Valar, who also created the Dwarves. Curiously Sauron was also originally AulĂ«’s servant before he was corrupted by Morgoth. The next to arrive were Alatar and Pallando. They were the servants of OromĂ«.  Both wore blue robes and were known as the Ithryn Luin (Sindarin, ‘the Blue Wizards’). The fourth to arrive was Aiwendil who wore brown robes. He was the servant of Yavanna. He became known as Radagast. Another account has him arriving with Curumo, who wasn’t exactly pleased to have to travel with him. Last came OlĂłrin. He wore grey robes and was the shortest and oldest looking of them. He was the servant of ManwĂ«, the Lord of the Valar. He did not want to come as he thought he would fail. The Elves called him Mithrandir (Sindarin, ‘Grey-wanderer’), in the North he was called Gandalf, the Dwarves called him TharkĂ»n (Dwarven, ‘Staff-man’), and he was also known as the Grey Pilgrim. When he arrived, CĂ­rdan of the Grey Havens gave him the Elven ring Narya, the Ring of Fire, as he knew Gandalf would have greater need of it than he would.

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Radagast by Quinton Hoover

So what happened once they got to Middle-earth? They all at first traveled around for quite some time to gain understanding. The Blue Wizards and Saruman traveled to the East, but only Saruman returned. He eventually took over the Tower of Orthanc at Isengard and there he studied the devices of Sauron, and lore of the Rings of Power. Radagast, being the servant of Yavanna, became enamoured of the flora and fauna of Middle-earth. For a while he settled in Rhosgobel, near the southern borders of Mirkwood. Gandalf dwelt in no place. He gathered neither wealth or followers, but traveled all over North Western Middle-earth befriending others in time of need and desired not that anyone “should hold him in awe or take his counsels out of fear” (Unfinished Tales, p.506).  Saruman became “proud and impatient and enamoured of power sought to have his own will by force” (Unfinished Tales p.505) And so he fell. His study of Sauron’s devices and ring-lore led to his corruption. In the end his machinations were overcome and defeated and he was slain by his last remaining servant and his spirit wandered but never came back to Middle-earth or Valinor. Tolkien was never sure about what happened to the Blue Wizards. He wrote in a letter: “I think they went as emissaries to distant regions, East and South, far out of NĂșmenĂłrean range: missionaries to ‘enemy-occupied’ lands, as it were. What success they had I do not know; but I fear that they failed, as Saruman did, though doubtless in different ways; and I suspect they were founders or beginners of secret cults and ‘magic’ traditions that outlasted the fall of Sauron” (The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, p.280). Radagast forsook helping Elves and Men and spent his days among the wild creatures. However when he met Gandalf near the Shire and told him Saruman wanted to talk with him and to help, Gandalf told Radagast to send all messages to Orthanc from the birds and beasts, which Radagast presumably did. It was for this reason that Gwaihir came to Orthanc to deliver tidings and found Gandalf imprisoned on the roof of the tower, and so was able to rescue him. So in that way Radagast did help, albeit unintentionally. It was Gandalf who completed the mission the Valar sent them to do. The strategy on how to destroy Sauron was his (in consultation with people like Elrond and Aragorn). He also ensured the forces of Rohan and Gondor withstood assaults from both Isengard and Mordor and made sure that Sauron was fixated on Gondor so he wouldn’t notice that two Hobbits had crept into his land of Mordor to destroy his Ring, and thus by doing so destroying him too. But he did need help from the Powers. When the Fellowship was in Moria and encountered the Balrog (yet another corrupted Maiar) he took it on himself to save the others by sacrificing himself. He died but was brought back stronger than before. Tolkien writes: “The ‘wizards’, as such, had failed; or if you like: the crisis had become too grave and needed an enhancement of power. So Gandalf sacrificed himself, was accepted, and enhanced, and returned… Of course he remains similar in personality and idiosyncrasy, but both his wisdom and power are much greater” (The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, p.202).

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The Blue Wizards. Artist unknown.

As a side note there is a further mention of the Blue Wizards which Tolkien probably wrote in 1972, shortly before his death. There is a note that his son Christopher found very difficult to read but it stated the Blue Wizards came much earlier, sometime in the Second Age and it was the same time that Glorfindel chose to return to Middle-earth (death by Balrog seems survivable for some). He names the Blue Wizards as Morinehtar and RĂłmestĂĄmo (Darkness-slayer and East-helper). “Their task was to circumvent Sauron: to bring help to the few tribes of Men that had rebelled from Melkor-worship… 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.” (The Peoples of Middle-Earth, p.385). It doesn’t say what ultimately happened to them. As this note seems to contradict all the other material on the Wizards, such as all of them arriving in Middle-earth around 1000 Third Age, I have decided to discount this note for the purposes of this article.

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Saruman by John Howe

Rather than directly intervening in the affairs of Middle-earth the Valar chose to send the Istari, emissaries from the West to unite the opposition against the Dark Lord. Five were sent but only one completed the task and returned to the West. Even though they were angelic beings, having incarnate bodies left them open to corruption, among other things, whether by being lost in nature or by hunger for power and domination over others, and so they failed. However Gandalf prevailed in the end, and by guiding others as he was supposed to do, managed to defeat the Dark Lord of Mordor. Ensuring Sauron joined his master Morgoth in the Void. Gandalf had little faith in himself at the beginning of the task that he could be successful, but both ManwĂ« and Varda had faith in him. They would have known Gandalf had the skills and temperament that he needed. In the Valaquenta it says of Gandalf: “Wisest of the Maiar was OlĂłrin. He too dwelt in LĂłrien, but his ways took him often to the house of Nienna, and of her he learned pity and patience… In later days he was the friend of all the Children of IlĂșvatar, and took pity on their sorrows; and those who listened to him awoke from despair and put away the imaginations of darkness” (The Silmarillion, p.30-1).

Sources

Tolkien, J.R.R., The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, edited by Humphrey Carpenter and Christopher Tolkien, (Unwin Paperbacks, London, 1990)

Tolkien, J.R.R., The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, (HarperCollins Publishers, London, 1992)

Tolkien, J.R.R., The Peoples of Middle-Earth, edited by Christopher Tolkien, (Houghton Mifflin, New York, 1996)

Tolkien, J.R.R., The Silmarillion, edited by Christopher Tolkien, (George Allen & Unwin, London, 1977)

Tolkien, J.R.R., Unfinished Tales of NĂșmenor and Middle-earth, Edited by Christopher Tolkien, (HarperCollins Publishers, London, 2000)

Tyler, J.E.A., The Complete Tolkien Companion, (Pan Books, London, 2002)

1178

 

Dragons of Middle-earth

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Glaurung and Nienor. Illustration by Eric Velhagen.

One of the things that first drew me to read The Hobbit when I was seven years old was that there was a picture of a dragon on the cover. It was J.R.R. Tolkien’s own illustration of the Death of Smaug: A picture of a dragon with an arrow in it’s chest above a burning town. I’ve always loved dragons and when I was a kid any book with a dragon on the cover was enough for me to pick it up and start reading it. So the fact that Middle-earth had dragons in it was what got me into reading Tolkien. What is interesting about the dragons of Middle-earth is that they first appear in the First Age and cause all sorts of havoc and then completely disappear until towards the end of the Third Age. Tolkien also only named four of them. I thought I would explain in this article why there are dragons in Middle-earth and the different types of them that exist, such as cold drakes, then I will give a brief overview of dragon history in Middle-earth, and lastly I will examine the four dragons that Tolkien mentions, though two of them don’t have that much written about them.

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Illustration by J.R.R. Tolkien

Dragons were bred by Melkor, more commonly known as Morgoth (Sindarin: Dark Enemy) the first Dark Lord of Middle-earth, to be used in his wars against the Elven kingdoms of Beleriand. It is unknown whether they were created by Morgoth, or they existed as a species before Morgoth began breeding them for evil purposes. Another possibility is that like Balrogs, the first Dragons may have originally been Maiar that were corrupted by the Dark Lord, but there is no evidence of this. There were three known types of Dragon or Great Worms as they were also called: the first was the fire-breathing drakes, or Uruloki, these were the first dragons that appeared and they were unable to fly, secondly the winged-drakes that appeared later in the First Age, and lastly, the cold-drakes, these were lesser worms that couldn’t breathe fire. Dragon scales were pretty much impenetrable, and their eyesight, hearing, and sense of smell were all exceptional. It was virtually impossible to sneak up on a dragon as they would hear and smell anyone coming near. They were very intelligent full of cunning and guile,  though they were also vain, greedy, and deceitful, among other things. They could also put others under their spell, as what happened to Turin and Nienor when they gazed into Glaurung’s eyes.

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The first dragon appeared in 255 First Age (Years of the Sun). Glaurung, the father of all Dragons, issued out of Angband and even though he wasn’t fully grown he produced enough destruction to cause Elves to flee from him. After being injured he fled back to Angband and didn’t appear again until the Battle of Sudden Flame, or Dagor Bragollach, around two hundred years later, when he appeared fully grown with Balrogs and Orcs behind him. In the Battle of Unnumbered Tears, or Nirnaeth Arnoediad, Glaurung and other Dragons appeared and only the Dwarves covered in armour and face-plates could withstand them. After that Glaurung sacked the Kingdom of Nargothrond but was then slain by Turin Turambar. Dragons, described as “the brood of Glaurung” (Silmarillion, p. 242) were present at the fall of Gondolin, their fire-breath causing difficulties for the Elvish forces trying to defend the city. In the War of Wrath where Morgoth was defeated by the host of the Valar, his forces including his dragons were all mostly destroyed. As a last defence the winged Dragons issued out of the pits of Angband for the first time, the largest of them being Ancalagon the Black. The winged Dragons were defeated by Earendil and “great birds of heaven” (Silmarillion, p. 252) led by the Eagle king Thorondor, though a few managed to escape and hid in places like the Grey Mountains.

During the Second Age there is no mention of any Dragons and isn’t towards the end of the Third Age that Dragons seem to reappear in the histories.  In the First Age Dragons were under control of Morgoth, but by the Third Age they were seemingly acting more independently.  It was around the year 2570 when cold-drakes and winged-drakes begin to attack the Dwarves in the north. The Dwarves went to the Grey Mountains because they contained great riches, but there were Dragons there and they had grown strong again and they attacked the Dwarves and plundered their works. Dain I and his son Fror were slain at the doors of his hall by a great cold-drake. Not long after that the Dwarves abandoned the Grey Mountains and sought riches elsewhere. When rumour of the wealth of Erebor spread, it reached the ears of the Dragons in the Grey Mountains. Smaug the Golden, the most powerful Dragon of the age, destroyed the Dwarven Kingdom of Erebor and the town of Dale and then settled in Erebor for the next two hundred years until he was slain. Though the Dragons went on breeding in the Grey Mountains for a long time afterwards there is no further mention of them.

Glaurung

Glaurung in Battle

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Glaurung. Illustration by Vaejoun

Glaurung was the first dragon to appear. He is also referred to as “the father of dragons” (Silmarillion, p.151) and was a fire-drake. He had no wings, but walked on legs. When he issued out of Angband in 255 First Age he was still young and only half-grown, but the Elves fled before him in dismay as he defiled the fields of Ard-galen. Fingon, prince of Hithlum, hemmed him with a ring of archers on horseback and Glaurung could not endure the arrows as his scales were not yet hard enough and he fled back to Angband and didn’t come forth for another two hundred years.  Morgoth was displeased with Glaurung for revealing himself too soon and so it wasn’t until the Battle of Sudden Flame that Glaurung came forth again. This time he was in his full might as he led the Balrogs and Orcs to ending the Siege of Angband. In 470 the Battle of Unnumbered Tears he came out of Angband with other Dragons and withered all who stood before him. The Dwarves covered in armour managed stop the Dragons from withering all that was left of the Noldor. They encircled Glaurung and struck him with their axes and Glaurung in a rage struck down Azaghal, Lord of Belegost, and crawled over him, but Azaghal drove a knife into his soft belly and caused Glaurung to flee the battlefield.

Glaurung and Turin

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The Fall of Nargothrond. Illustration by woutart.

In 495 Glaurung and a large army of Orcs attacked Nargothrond. The warriors issued from Nargothrond to meet this force but were defeated. Turin Turambar was present in this battle but survived; his Dwarven mask helping him against Glaurung’s fire. After the battle Turambar sped back to Nargothrond but Glaurung was there before him and Nargothrond was being sacked. As Turin arrived Glaurung came out of the doorway and “opened wide his serpent-eyes and gazed upon Turin” (Silmarillion p. 213) Turambar looked into his gaze and fell under a binding-spell. Glaurung taunted him as Turambar stood there unable to move as Nargothrond was sacked and the women and children were taken away for slaves, including Finduilas, the daughter of Orodreth the King of Nargothrond, who cried out to Turambar as they were lovers. Once they were gone Glaurung released Turambar from his spell, but convinced him Morwen and Nienor (his mother and sister) were living in Dor-lomin in misery and that if he tried to save Finduilas, he would never see them again and so Turambar left for Dor-lomin and no longer tried to save her. Glaurung then gathered the entire hoard and lay upon it in the innermost hall of Nargothrond. When tidings came to Morwen in Doriath that Turin had been seen in Nargothrond she resolved to go and find him. Mablung and Nienor followed after her. Glaurung saw them coming and by going into a river he created a lot of vapour and a foul reek which caused their horses to go berserk and Nienor to be thrown by her steed. She made her way to Amon Ethir but Glaurung was there and put a spell of darkness and forgetfulness on her, causing her to forget everything including her own name, and then he departed. Mablung found her and led her away. When they were attacked by Orcs she recovered her sight and hearing and fled in terror to the forest. She ran for a long time and then collapsed and was found by Turambar who didn’t recognise her. He called her Niniel and took her to Ephel Brandir. Over two years passed. Turambar and Niniel’s love for each other grew and they married. In 497 Glaurung heard tidings the the Black Sword was in Brethil, so he left Nargothrond. When Turambar received news that Glaurung was approaching Ephel Brandir he set out to destroy him. Glaurung had to go over a narrow gorge unaware Turambar was there. Turambar drove his sword Gurthang into Glaurung’s soft belly up to the hilt as he tried to pass over the ravine. When Glaurung felt this he screamed and hurled himself across the chasm and set all about him in flames. Turambar followed him and retrieved his sword but was burned by the venomous blood and he collapsed. Niniel ran to Turambar and thought he was dead. Glaurung stirred and told her that her name was Nienor and that Turambar was her brother Turin. Then Glaurung died and Nienor remembered everything. She threw herself over the brink of Cabed-en-Aras and was never seen again. Turambar awoke learning that Niniel was dead and was also his sister Nienor. He ran off back to Cabed-en-Aras and fell upon his sword Gurthang. Mablung found him and Turin’s body was buried in a mound with the shards of Gurthang. Glaurung’s body was burned to ashes.

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The Death of Glaurung. Illustration by Elena Kukanova

Ancalagon the Black

During the War of Wrath the host of the Valar attacked Angband destroying most of Morgoth’s forces including his Dragons, Balrogs, and Orcs, and as a last defence Morgoth released his winged Dragons from the pits of Angband. This was the first time the world had seen winged Dragons. The mightiest of them was Ancalagon the Black, the largest Dragon ever seen. Earendil came in Vingilot along with all the great birds of heaven led by Thorondor the Eagle and there was a battle in the air for an entire day and night. As the sun was rising Earendil slew Ancalagon and Ancalagon fell upon the towers of Thangorodrim, a group of three volcanic mountains, and destroyed them.

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Ancalagon the Black. Illustration by rubendevela.

Scatha the Worm

Unless you’re particularly observant the mention of Scatha in the Lord of the Rings may have passed you by.  In The Return of the King, Eowyn gives Merry an ancient silver horn and says it was made by the Dwarves and came from the hoard of Scatha the Worm (The Return of the King, p. 1014). However this is not the only mention of Scatha. In Appendix A it says: “Of his son, Fram, they tell he slew Scatha, the great dragon of Ered Mithrin, and the land had peace from the long-worms afterwards” (The Return of the King, p. 1102). Scatha was possibly a cold-drake that attacked some Dwarves and plundered their hall. Much like what happened after Smaug died, there was a fight over Scatha’s hoard after the Worm was killed. Fram gained great wealth from the hoard, but the Dwarves claimed it as theirs. Fram instead sent them a necklace made from Scatha’s teeth and said: “Jewels such as these you will not match in your treasuries, for they are hard to come by” (The Return of the King, p. 1102). Apparently the Dwarves slew him for this.

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The Teeth of Scatha the Worm. Illustration by Matthew Stewart.

Smaug the Golden

Of all the Dragon’s in the Third Age the greatest known is Smaug. Originally he lived in the Grey Mountains, but when news reached him about the wealth of the Dwarven kingdom of Erebor he decided to grab it. His attack on the Dwarves was sudden and unexpected. Once he got rid of all the Dwarves he piled all the treasure he could find into a large pile in the lowest dungeon hall in the mountain and slept on it for a bed, only leaving occasionally for food (in this way Dale was eventually abandoned after Smaug would regularly come to eat it’s inhabitants). And so Smaug guarded this hoard for almost 200 years. That was until 13 Dwarves and a Hobbit appeared at his doorstep one day in 2941. Smaug was asleep the first time Bilbo Baggins came down the tunnel that led to the hall where he lay on his hoard. Bilbo stole a two-handled cup and went back to the Dwarves. The instant Smaug awoke he knew something was amiss. As Dragons have a keen sense of smell, there was a scent he was unfamiliar with and though he had a huge hoard, he noticed one of his cups was missing. He flew into a rage and flew out through the front gate. Bilbo and the Dwarves hid behind the secret door in the mountain as the Dragon searched for possible intruders. He found their ponies, who were running away from the mountain, and ate them. Eventually he returned to his resting place and waited. It was not long before Bilbo came back down to his hall. Smaug feigned sleep as Bilbo appeared. Since Bilbo was wearing the Ring, Smaug could not see him, but due to his keen Dragon senses he could smell and hear him, but once Bilbo realised Smaug wasn’t really sleeping, Smaug finally talked to him. Bilbo seemed to have good knowledge about how to talk to a Dragon as he flattered him (which Dragons love) and presented him with a lot of riddles and puzzles which Smaug probably understood better than Bilbo realised. Smaug worked out there were Dwarves with Bilbo, and with Bilbo they numbered 14, though he had no idea what Bilbo was, and he suspected the Men of Esgaroth had helped them at some stage. Smaug showed himself off to Bilbo and how his vulnerable underbelly was now lined with jewels, though there was one spot he had missed and Bilbo noticed this. When Bilbo returned to the Dwarves he told them about this and an old thrush overheard what he said. That night they hid in the tunnel and after just closing the door, Smaug hit the side of the mountain after stealthily leaving his hall and flying silently around the mountain. Smaug then headed for Esgaroth to punish the Men who had helped the Dwarves. His arrival was unexpected, but they had a small time to prepare thanks to Bard, a descendant of the lords of Dale, who recognised the signs of an advancing Dragon. The onslaught was terrible. Most of the town was burned down with archers shooting at Smaug with little effect. Bard was down to his last arrow when the old thrush that had heard what Bilbo told the Dwarves landed on his shoulder and told him where to aim. Bard aimed at the advancing Dragon and loosed his arrow at him. The arrow hit Smaug with deadly accuracy. Smaug shot up in the air and then fell on the burning remains of Lake Town and then both he and the town sunk under the waters of the lake. Bard survived by jumping into the water before Smaug crashed into the town. Afterwards there was a typical fight for the hoard that Smaug had left. It would have come to blows between the Dwarves (now bolstered with Dwarves from the Iron Hills) on one side and Elves from Northern Mirkwood and the Men of Esgaroth on the other hadn’t there then been a sudden attack from a force of Orcs and Wargs from Mount Gundabad. After this battle ended things were settled more peaceably.

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Conversation With Smaug by J.R.R. Tolkien.

Sources

Day, David, A Tolkien Bestiary, (Mitchell Beazley, London, 1979)

Foster, Robert, The Complete Guide To Middle-Earth, (Unwin Paperbacks, London, 1978)

Tolkien, J.R.R., The Children of Hurin, (HarperCollins Publishers, London, 2007)

Tolkien, J.R.R., The Hobbit, (Unwin Hyman, London, 1987)

Tolkien, J.R.R., The Return of the King, (HarperCollins Publishers, London, 1992)

Tolkien, J.R.R., The Silmarillion, (George Allen & Unwin, London, 1977)

Tyler, J.E.A., The Complete Tolkien Companion, (Pan Books, London, 2002)