Since the Fellowship is in montage-mode marching south along the Misty Mountains, I’ve been taking a look back at Frodo’s time in Rivendell. Today we’ll spend about 1,000 words checking out a throw away line spoken by Gandalf. Indulge me, won’t you?
The line: “there are wargs and werewolves”
Okay. What the hell, Tollers?
Here’s what the hell. While we’re familiar with wargs from The Hobbit and werewolves from legend, Universal Pictures, and MST3K, Tolkien actually invented neither (though he sort of made wargs his own).
So let’s start with Wargs. To the reader, they were first mentioned in the Hobbit, Chapter Six, and seemed nearly synonymous with evil wolves “over the Edge of the Wild”. They were more intelligent then wolves, having a language that Gandalf could understand. They and the goblins would help each other in performing “wicked deeds,” even splitting the booty.
When Tolkien first used the word, in an early draft of The Hobbit, he spelled it “weorgs,” though he quickly changed it to “wargs.” He derived the word from the Old English ‘wearg’ for wolf. The connotation of wearg, however, also meant ‘outlaw’ or hunted criminal. It was also in Old High German (as warg) and Old Norse (as varg).
Tolkien, in a 1966 letter, explained: “I adopted the word, which had a good sound for the meaning, as a name for this particular brand of demonic wolf in the story.”
Though Tolkien did not use the word “warg” until writing this portion of The Hobbit in 1932ish, he had already invented the idea. He used it in the ‘Tale of Tinuviel’ from the Book of Lost Tales, (more or less) finished in early 1926. In that story, it’s written that “they had become subject to Melko [Melkor/Morgoth/Sauron’s master] and were as savage and cruel as any of his animals; indeed from the most cruel and most savage he bred the race of wolves, and they were very dear indeed to him.”
There was Karkaras (Carcharoth in the Silmarillion), also known as “Knife-fang, father of wolves,” who guarded his gates and never slept. He spoke a language that Beren and Luthien could understand. Karkaras was killed by Huan, Captain of the Dogs, who was the “lord of the Hounds of Hisilome.” Huan was mortally wounded in that engagement. In the “Lay of Leithian,” written in the late 1920s, Karkaras’ roll was taken over by Draugluin, whom even Carcharoth respected.
Interestingly, for a time, Tolkien played with the idea of Sauron being a wolf of some sort. Sauron, then called Thu, the Necromancer, was “Morgoth’s mightiest lord, Master of Wolves.” He was Lord of the Wolves, in that epic poem. He plays with the idea of Thu disguising himself as a demonic wolf to devour Huan, who can only be slain by the “greatest wolf.”
In The Hobbit era, Sauron, Lord of the Wolves as well as the Ring, was up and coming in Dol Goldur, Mirkwood, which is very near where Bilbo’s party meet the wargs.
So when Tolkien wrote in Lord of the Rings that the Enemy had wargs, he knew what he was talking about – he had already been writing about this for decades.
As for werewolves, that’s a bit more vague. Many times, as in the “Lay of Luthien,” he uses the idea of intelligent demonic wolves and werewolves almost interchangeably. The only difference was that werewolves could change back into men, though from the stories, it seems like they rarely did. Mostly, they seem to be indistinguishable from wargs.
In his post-Lord of the Rings writings, Tolkien went into only slightly more detail about werewolves. Around the time that Sauron took Minas Tirith, “the fair isle of Tolsirion became accursed and was called Tol-in-Gaurhoth, Isle of Werewolves; for Sauron fed many of these evil things.”
Basically, we should probably understand werewolves to be werewolves in the traditional sense. Sometimes they’re men, sometimes they’re wolves. They hang out with orcs and wargs probably because nobody else would have them and Sauron feeds them. If you feed strays, they’ll stick around forever.
A Few Notes
- Through a lot of this early Lost Tales writing, Tolkien had a strange thing about cats. Seriously, check that out, it’s just weird. See: “So swift was Huan that on a time he had tasted the fur of Tevildo, and though Tevildo had paid him for that with a gash from his great claws, yet was the pride of the Prince of Cats unappeased and he lusted to do a great harm to Huan of the Dogs.” Come on!
- It was during the writing of the Lay of Leithian when Tolkien first used Sauron’s name, though he had existed as Thu and Gorthu prior to that.
- There’s a pretty good chance that Tolkien also derived the word “Balrog” from wearg. In fact, one of the early etymologies for Balrogs was “Bealuweargs,” which was derived from Modern English’s “baleful” and “wearg.”
- Fun fact: Melkor is also the name of Vin Diesel’s D&D character.
- Once more, John Rateliff’s History of the Hobbit has proven itself indispensable.
About the Photo
Surprisingly enough, I don’t have a picture of a warg. Or a werewolf for that matter. So here’s the closes thing to a monster that I have (that isn’t a dinosaur). I believe it’s supposed to be a salmon. It’s one of the sculptures at Carhenge in Nebraska. You can see Carhenge in the background.
- Day 100
- Miles today: 5
- Miles thus far: 495
- 425 miles to Lothlórien
- 1,283 miles to Mt. Doom
Today’s stopping place: Book II, Chapter 3. Encamped along the western foothills of the Misty Mountains, south of Rivendell. (map)