The Watcher in the Water vs. The Dweller in the Pool!

The Fellowship is now poised to enter Moria. The Wargs were behind them and only the Elvish gate was between them and the passage under the mountain. At least, that was their initial conception. There was now a lake that had pooled before the Gate of Moria, and in that lake lived a many-tentacled monster.

Tolkien never really went out of his way to describe just what the critter was, how it got into the Misty Mountains or why it was even in the story at all. We first get the hint that something isn’t quite right as they’re rounding the lake.

Moving across a stream, Frodo dipped his foot and “shuddered with disgust at the touch of the dark unclean water on his feet.” When Sam and Bill followed “there came a soft sound: a swish, followed by a plop, as if a fish had disturbed the still surface of the water.” When they looked back, they saw ripples.

Though we’ll meet the source of the ripples soon enough, I wanted to take a look at the earlier drafts to see just how this strange creature evolved. Oddly, in this earlier draft, we get a bit more detail.

Firstly, Tolkien then described Frodo feeling a “curious disgust” when his foot touched the water. The plop is still heard, and when they turn “they saw in the moonlight ripples sharpened with dark shadows: great rings were widening outwards from some point near the middle of the pool.”

Okay, so it’s not much more information – we really only learned that the ripples came from the middle of the lake. So let’s fast-forward through the password scene to where they’re just entering the mine.

First, Frodo was seized by the ankle, and Bill the pony took off. Sam was faced with the Battleship Potemkin-like decision over which to rescue. He chose Frodo and ran to him, “weeping and cursing” over his friend’s distress.

The others in the Fellowship turned “And saw the waters of the lake seething, as if a host of snakes were swimming up from the southern end.”

Tolkien described the tentacles as “pale-green and luminous and wet.” They were dragging Frodo into the lake, while Sam slashed away with his knife. Due to the pain, the tentacle released Frodo, but twenty other arms burst from the water. “The dark water boiled, and there was a hideous stench.”

The original draft is quite a bit different, in a way. Rather than being near sunset, as it was in the published version, it was night – too dark to search for the door. So they camped there next to the lake. Come the morning, Frodo again hears “a soft swish and bubble in the water as on the evening before, only softer.” He again saw ripples, but this time, they seemed to be moving toward Sam and Trotter [proto-Strider] who were crossing a near by wash.

There is no Bill the Pony yet, just a few horses, which Sam was seeing off and away from the party as Gandalf tried to figure out the password. And as in the published text, just as they’re about to enter, the tentacle grabs Frodo. Rather than simply Sam seeing this go down, Trotter also sees it. The tentacle is described as “pale green-grey and wet,” though apparently not “luminous,” possibly because it was daytime.

The tentacles themselves are somewhat different in the early text, having “fingers” that wrap Frodo’s ankle. When Sam slashes at it with his knife, “the fingers let go of Frodo…” In the published version, “the arm let go of Frodo.”

In the published version, Tolkien described that “twenty other arms came rippling out,” but in the early draft, he concluded that thought with: “making for the travellers as if directed by something in the deep pools that could see them all.” For whatever reason, this idea that the arms were working in concert was deleted.

In both versions, Gandalf quickly ushered them inside. In the early draft, that’s all there was to it. In the published text, there was quite a bit more drama (a paragraph’s worth) concerning the arms. The end was the same – the monster slammed and blocked the door behind them.

With the excitement dying down in both versions, Frodo asked Gandalf what the hell that thing was. This is the published text of Gandalf’s reply:


“‘I do not know,’ answered Gandalf; ‘but the arms were all guided by one purpose. Something has crept, or has been driven out of dark waters under the mountains. There are older and fouler things than Orcs in the deep places of the world.’ He did not speak aloud his thought that whatever it was that dwelt in the lake, it has seized on Frodo first among all the Company.”

Tolkien’s original draft is quite a bit different:

“‘I could not say,’ said Gandalf, ‘-there was not time enough to look at the arms. They all belong to one creature, I should say, from the way they moved – but that is all I can say. Something that has . . . . crept, or been driven out of the dark waters under ground, I guess. There are older and fouler things than goblins in the dark places of the world.’ He did not speak aloud his uncomfortable thought that the Dweller in the Pool had not seized on Frodo among all the party by accident.”

So we see that originally, the tentacles definitely belonged to the same animal, but in the later version, they all had the same purpose. Though in both, it’s clear that Gandalf feel that Frodo was targeted, in the published text, it’s stated twice. This attack was orchestrated.

You’ll also notice the use of “goblin” rather than “Orc” in the original draft. Though Tolkien had used the word Orc for decades in his earlier writings, probably because of The Hobbit, he was still using “goblin.”

At this point in the writing, the terms were not quite interchangeable, though soon they would be (and later, “goblin” would be almost completely dropped). A few pages further into the early draft, Gandalf explains: “there are goblins – of a very evil kind, larger than usual, real orcs.”

Lastly, in the first draft, the creature is given a sort-of name: “Dweller in the Pool,” while nothing is given in the published version until a bit later, when it’s called The Watcher in the Water.

There’s oodles of speculation about the origins of the creature – from it somehow being a kraken (please, David Day!) to it being bred by Morgoth. The latter has some weight to it since it was Morgoth who raised up the Misty Mountains to block the Valar and Elves from hunting him down. Maybe he had time to do a bit of gene-splicing. Since Tolkien never went into detail and never described the thing having a squid-like head (and even backed away from it being a single creature), there’s really no way to suss this out without creating a bit of fanfiction.

Camera: Kodak Brownie No. 2, Model D (1914) ||Film: Fujichrome Provia 100 x-pro as C-41 (expired in 10/1997)

Camera: Kodak Brownie No. 2, Model D (1914) ||Film: Fujichrome Provia 100 x-pro as C-41 (expired in 10/1997)

A Few Notes
This will be my last post following Frodo’s journey for at least two weeks – maybe three. By the time this posts, I’ll be out and under the knife (seriously, nothing major). I’ll probably take the weekend off from writing, but hope to return on Monday or Tuesday with more fun.

About the Photo
“Before them stretched a dark still lake….The Sirannon had been dammed and hd filled all the valley. Beyond the ominous water were reared fast cliffs, their stern faces pallid in the fading light: final and impassable.”

This, dear friends, is Ancient Lake in Potholes Coulee in central Washington. There used to be a waterfall here (15,000ish years ago) and the lake was left over from then. We discovered this after an unexpected fourish mile hike to see what was back the canyon. This was our reward. I nearly fainted from how beautiful it was.


  • Day 161
  • Miles today: 5
  • Miles thus far: 794 (340 from Rivendell)
  • 97 miles to Lothlórien
  • 985 miles to Mt. Doom

Today’s stopping place in the narrative: Book II, Chapter 3. At the Gate of Moria! 21st day out of Rivendell. January 13, 3019 TA. (map)

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