The First Use of “Lord of the Rings”

Sometime before Tolkien finished the first drafts of the second and third chapters of Lord of the Rings, he wrote a few pieces expounding on ideas that he had only alluded to. In a letter to his publisher, he mentioned that the story had “taken an unpremeditated turn.” He never disclosed what this turn was, though Christopher Tolkien, his son, believed it to be the introduction of the Black Riders and their own quest for the ring (which was quickly becoming The One Ring).

The first manuscript is an extended conversation between Gildor and Bingo (proto-Frodo), though Gildor is not mentioned by name. It picks up with Gildor’s realization that Gandalf had told Bingo practically nothing. The talk quickly turns to the Ring and the Blackriders. About a year prior to leaving the Shire, Gandalf visited Bingo, telling him to be careful with the Ring, “otherwise you will be overcome by it.” In this manuscript, the ring was now The Ring.

Gildor (named just “Elf” here, as if it was written before Tolkien had named him) instructed Bingo to seek Gandalf in Rivendell as quickly as he could. He also warned him that “it is my belief that the Lord of the Ring is looking for you.” This was the earliest instance of the phrase. Bingo asks if that is good or bad. It is, of course, a bad thing, though Gildor doesn’t know how bad.

“Bad enough if he only wants the ring back (which is unlikely); worse, if he wants payment; very bad indeed if he wants you as well (which is quite likely).” Gildor muses about how the dark Lord must have figured out that Bilbo had the Ring and sent his servants in search of it. “But by strange luck you must have held your party and vanished just as they found out where you lived.”

Bingo asked Gildor who they (meaning the Black Riders) were. “Servants of the Lord of the Ring – [people?] who have passed through the Ring.”

Just what Tolkien meant by that, he never explained, and the draft ended there. In another manuscript that seems to be a continuation of the conversation (though not a seamless one), more is told about the Black Riders.

Gildor explained that if the Ring overcomes you, “you yourself become permanently invisible – and it is a horrible cold feeling. Everything becomes very faint like grey ghost pictures against the black background in which you live; but you can smell more clearly than you can hear or see.” This certainly explains the sniffing.

It’s pretty clear that Tolkien was still trying to work this all out. Gildor explained that one overcome by the Ring did not himself have the power to make things invisible “unless the Lord lends you a ring.” This, too, was unexplained, but he warned that then “you are under the command of the Lord of the Rings” – the first instance of the phrase that would eventually become the title of the work.

Next, through Gildor, Tolkien explained a bit of the Ring’s history. The Ring-lord, long ago made many of these Rings and distributed them widely through the world to snare people.

“The Elves had many, and there are now many elfwraiths in the world, but the Ring-lord cannot rule them; the goblins got many, and the invisible goblins are very evil and wholly under the Lord; dwarves, I don’t believe had any; some say the rings don’t work on them: they are too solid. Men had few but they were most quickly overcome and ….. The men-wraits are also servants of the Lord.”

Then Gollum entered into the discussion, which makes a bit of sense, since it was through Gollum that we were first introduced to the ring in the original Hobbit, when he gave it to Bilbo as a gift. Tolkien, at first, supposed that Gollum was some distant relative of the goblins, but immediately changed his mind, deciding instead that he was some ancient sort of hobbit.

Here, the first strings of Gollum’s history are introduced, though Tolkien gives no clue as to how Gildor was to have learned this. Gollum belonged “to a wise, cleverhanded and quietfooted little family. But he disappeared underground, and though he used the ring often the Lord evidently lost track of it. Until Bilbo brought it out to light again.” He also speculated that perhaps Gollum left the mountains and sought out the dark Lord.

The second piece of manuscript ends with that, but there was a third, nearly a chapter’s worth, that was also written around this time. It’s difficult to say what it was for certain, but it appears as if it might be another stab at an opening chapter (or perhaps a prologue). But that will have to wait until tomorrow.

A Few Notes
Most if this information comes from Return of the Shadow edited by Christopher Tolkien. It’s part of the History of Middle-earth Series. I

  • So here we have a title – The Lord of the Rings. But you’ll notice that we don’t have a character. I’m not even sure that Tolkien knew it was going to be the Necromancer at this point, though I’m sure he’ll clear that up quickly enough.
  • Placing the chronology of the writing is tough, especially since he didn’t specifically name Gildor. Though in the manuscript of the second chapter, he often referred to Gildor as “Elf.” It’s really hard to believe that it came before chapter two, and almost as difficult to believe it came before chapter three.
  • I guess, in the end, it doesn’t really matter. The history of Gollum and the making of the Ring would soon change again – tomorrow!
Camera: Zeiss-Ikon Ikoflex II (1939) Film: Kodak Ektachrome 64 (xpro as C-41)

Camera: Zeiss-Ikon Ikoflex II (1939)
Film: Kodak Ektachrome 64 (xpro as C-41)

About the Photo
Goblin Valley, Utah isn’t an incredibly well known place, but if you ever find yourself near it, definitely figure out a way to explore it. I realize that Gollum quickly became not a goblin, but really, how many more chances am I going to get to post a photo of Goblin Valley?


  • Day 71
  • Miles today: 5
  • Miles thus far: 346
  • 114 miles to Rivendell
  • 1,433 miles to Mt. Doom

Today’s stopping place: Book I, Chapter 12 (p200, 50th Anniv. Ed.) Still south of the East Road, southeast of Weathertop and nearing the Last Bridge. (map)

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4 thoughts on “The First Use of “Lord of the Rings”

  1. Ee gads thank goodness he dropped the idea of elfwraiths and invisible goblins! It’s wonderful to see the work in progress. The literature comes to life if we get a glimpse of the bones.

    • I’m actually really intrigued by the idea of Elfwraiths (though I could live without invisible goblins). An Elvin Ringwraith would be just freaky. I’m not even sure they could become them. It’s something I really need to think about some more.

  2. So that is Goblin Valley! It’s name fits! I think it also looks like it could be part of Mordor. (rather forbidding landscape) You don’t, by any chance, have more pictures of that place?

    • That is Goblin Valley! It’s an absolutely amazing place. I’m not sure where I’d put it in Middle-earth. Near Mordor, anyway. I always picture Mordor as a giant lava flow, though I assume there’s more to it than that.

      Here’s another pic of the place, and there are more near that one, so poke around :
      http://m.flickr.com/#/photos/ericswanger/7820597130/

      I don’t care for how most of the photos of Goblin Valley turned out. I was using an old pre-WW2 German camera and wasn’t very used to it. So we’re heading back there this summer for a bit more fun. We’ll also be visiting a couple of lava flows for that patented Mordor feel.

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