Orcs Saw Him and Killed Him with Arrows

I’ve decided that I’m going to spend about a week digging into the death of Isildur. We are at the point in the Council of Elrond when the whole ‘how did the Ring disappear?’ bit comes up. So rather than jump right in, I thought we’d pussyfoot around a bit. I’ll be consulting not just Lord of the Rings, but the Silmarillion, and Unfinished Tales. Along with them, I’ll hunt around for other clues as to how his story developed along the way.

Today, I’ll start with our first introduction to the man. This came, oddly enough, not in the prologue with the absolutely essential information about the Thain of the Shire-moots and pipe-weed, but in Chapter Two: The Shadow of the Past, where Gandalf schooled Frodo on the history of the One Ring.

Now, he doesn’t say much at all, really. He does suggest that he should tell Frodo the tale someday, but only gives a brief synopsis. As I study Tolkien’s writing and especially his drafts, he seems to often say this when he’s not really sure of the larger “historical” story. “I’ll tell you later when I finally make it up,” he seems to be saying.

When Frodo asks him why the Ring wasn’t destroyed, Gandalf replies that “It was taken from him [Sauron].” He continues, saying that the Numenoreans came to the aid of the Elves.

“It was Gil-galad, Elven-king and Elendil of Westernesse who overthrew Sauron, though they themselves perished in the deed; and Isildur Elendil’s son cut the Ring from Sauron’s hand and took it for his own. Then Sauron was vanquished and his spirit fled and was hidden for long years, until his shadow took shape again in Mirkwood.”

This is the basic story. Gil-galad and Elendil somehow overthrew Sauron, apparently subduing him enough so that Isildur could cut the Ring from his finger. And though Gil-galad and Elendil died in this fight, Isildur took the Ring and kept it as his own.

Gandalf continues:

“But the Ring was lost. It fell into the Great River, Anduin, and vanished. For Isildur was marching north along the east banks of the River, and near the Gladden Fields he was waylaid by the Orcs of the Mountains, and almost all his folk were slain. He leaped into the waters, but the Ring slipped from his finger as he swam, and then the Orcs saw him and killed him with arrows.”

It must be remembered that this is literally all we know about Isildur at this point. We don’t know about the White Tree or his heroics or anything apart from the fact that he was Elendil’s son, the guy who cut the Ring off of Sauron’s finger and then kept it.

And in conclusion, after a pause, he said: “And there in the dark pools amid the Gladden Fields … the Ring passed out of knowledge and legend; and even so much of its history is known now only to a few, and the Council of the Wise could discover no more.”

This is the very basic story and though the details would change much over time, this outline (for the most part) would not. Gandalf leaves much out of the telling. For example, he doesn’t explain why Isildur kept the Ring. But, I wanted to start with this before getting into Elrond’s take on it at the Council of Elrond or whatever the Silmarillion and Unfinished Tales had to say. This is the basis and we’ll take it from here.

A Few Notes

  • I’m really excited to start this. I’ve been thinking quite a bit about the story and trying to reconcile different accounts (not really possible).
  • Short post Friday!
Camera: Kodak Brownie Hawkeye || Film: Kodak PPF-2 (expired 09/1999)

Camera: Kodak Brownie Hawkeye || Film: Kodak PPF-2 (expired 09/1999)

About the Photo
I don’t have many river shots. But I have this, and I thought today was a good day for such a thing. Isildur might not agree.


  • Day 120
  • Miles today: 5
  • Miles thus far: 601 (147 from Rivendell)
  • 320 miles to Lothlórien
  • 1,178 miles to Mt. Doom

Today’s stopping place in the narrative: Book II, Chapter 3. Encamped south along the western foothills of the Misty Mountains. Seventh night out from Rivendell. January 2, 3019 TA. (map)

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2 thoughts on “Orcs Saw Him and Killed Him with Arrows

  1. I think you’re right: Tolkien was often unsure of specific details and deliberately kept things vague until he worked them out.

    But more than any other writer that I’ve read, he liked to foreshadow things. I think this kindles the curiosity of a first time reader – they want to know more. And it provides depth and complexity for any re-reading.

    • Oh he loved foreshadowing. But he also loved making things a foreshadow after the fact. It must have brought him great joy because he did it pretty much all the time. He loved to create complexity as he went and figure it out later. It’s such a crazy way of writing, I love it.

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