For Lost of Yore Was Inglorel… Nimlade… er… Nimlothel?

Many readers have a tendency to skip over the poems, but I really hope you didn’t pass by The Lay of Nimrodel. Maybe it’s not the epic we’d want, but it’s a lovely peek into the legends of the Silvan Elves when they lived in Lothlorien. When Tolkien wrote this poem, he probably knew little more than us about either Nimrodel or Amroth, but later in his life, he added a bit of lore.

When first starting the early draft of this chapter, probably in 1944, he left the space for the poem blank. Working out the poem was laborious. He even struggled with her name. First she was Linglorel, then Inglorel, then Nimladel, Nimlorel, and Nimlothel, before finally settling upon Nimrodel. Amroth’s name wasn’t quite as difficult to come to from Ammalas to Amaldor to its final form.

Anyway, the poem in the first draft ended up being pretty close to the version that he published. It’s unclear whether it was actually unfinished because it was part of the story or because he simply couldn’t finish it. Even the ending of the story, as told by Legolas, was pretty much the same.

Obviously, the story given in LotR was not the final version. In 1969, Tolkien went back to it and added a bit of detail.

Nimrodel was a Silvan Elf, but lived separately from them near a waterfall (where the Fellowship stopped for the night). She, like many of the other Silvan Elves, didn’t care much for the Elves who came from the West. She refused to speak the Sindarin tongue, and would only use the old Silvan speech, even when it fell out of favor with her brethren.

Sometime in the early Second Age, Thranduil left Lothlorien, but Nimrodel stayed. That is, until the Dwarves in Moria awakened the Balrog, and Orcs came into the land. In the year 1981 of the Third Age, she fled to the south as the Dwarves fled from Moria. But Amroth followed her.

Amroth was either the son of Galadriel and Celeborn or the son of Amdir, Lord of Lothlorien until the Battle of the Dagorlad (at the end of the Second Age). Whichever, he left everything and chased after her, catching her as she was contemplating whether or not to enter the Fangorn Forest.

She vowed to marry him if he could bring her to a land of peace. But there was no longer any chance for peace in Middle-earth, so they decided to sail to the West, striking out for the Grey Havens. While passing through Gondor, they became separated. Amroth ended up in the Gray Havens, still searching for her.

There was a ship about to leave – apparently the “last” ship (though it obviously wasn’t the last ship) – and those on board called for him to join them. He wanted to wait for Nimrodel, but they really wanted to leave. The Elves stuck around for a few months until the weather turned bad.

A storm swept in and sent the ship to sea with everyone, including Amroth, on board. He woke up, saw what was happening, yelled “Nimrodel!” and jumped overboard to swim back to the shore. Nobody ever saw him again.

Nobody ever saw Nimrodel again, either, and it’s a shame that her story is basically gobbled up by Amroth’s. However, it seems as if the general thought is that Amroth basically died (somehow – it didn’t matter) in the obvious way. Since Nimrodel’s disappearance was more of a mystery, various stories cropped up concerning her.

One such tale said that after becoming separated from Amroth, she got lost in the White Mountains, just northeast of Gondor. There, she found the River Gilrain that reminded her of her river near Lothlorien.

“Her heart was lightened, and she sat by a mere, seeing the stars reflected in its dim waters, and listening to the waterfalls by which the river went again on its journey down to the sea. There she fell into a deep sleep of weariness, and so long she slept that she did not come down into Belfalas until Amroth’s ship had been blown out to sea….”

This mostly seems to be the story known to Legolas, though his is a bit more folky, telling of how the wind in the spring is her voice.

Though this retelling dated from late in his life (around 1969), Tolkien changed it even a bit more. In the Lord of the Rings, Legolas says that when she lived outside of Lothlorien, she built a house up in the trees because that was the custom there. In the later version, it is wondered that “Maybe it was from her that Amroth took the idea of living in a high flet.” Though Amroth was Sindarin in descent, wrote Tolkien, “he lived after the manner of the Silvan Elves and house in the tall trees of a great green mound, ever after called Cerin Amroth. This he did because of his love for Nimrodel.”

In later essays, Tolkien hints that Nimrodel didn’t flee from Lothlorien alone, but had companions, one of whom was Mithrellas. Her companion got separated from her and ran into Imrazôr of Gondor, the first Lord of Dol Amroth (a Man), whom she married, thus their children were Half-Elves. (Weird, huh?)

And thus fizzles out the story of Nimrodel.

Camera: Argus C3 Film: Fuji Sensia II 200 (xpro)

Camera: Argus C3
Film: Fuji Sensia II 200 (xpro)

A Few Notes

  • When writing this part of the chapter, Tolkien coined the phrase ‘Common Speech,’ and used it ever since.
  • Of the names Nimrodel and Amroth, Tolkien was unclear how they fit into his languages. They “cannot be fully explained from Sindarin, though fitting it in form.” In an early draft of Appendix F, he claimed that it was Lemberin, an early term for Avarin, which means that her name was derived from the Elves that refused to go West on the “Great Journey” soon after their awakening in Middle-earth.
  • He didn’t name her this, but I’d prefer the name Nimlothel, personally.
  • Wednesday and Friday’s posts will be about the writing history of the Balrogs. When did they first appear? What were they life? Did they ride around on snake-worms made of fire? Find the hell out!

About the Photo
Where now she wanders none can tell,
In sunlight or in shade;
For lost of yore was Nimrodel
And in the mountains strayed.

It’s so rare that I take pictures of people, but when I do, they’re from far away. This is of Sarah in Bryce Canyon. Sometimes I lag behind, and when I look up, she’s nearly gone. I assume this is how Amroth got separated from Nimrodel. He was probably putzing around doing this or that, looked up and she was gone.

And fair she was and free!


  • Day 173
  • Miles today: 5
  • Miles thus far: 854 (400 from Rivendell)
  • 37 miles to Lothlórien
  • 925 miles to Mt. Doom

Book II, Chapter 6, Lothlorien. Entering the woods of Lothlorien. January 15, 3019 TA. (map)

The First Glimpse of Lothlorien, Some History, and Some Doubts

Our passage today takes us from the Fellowship’s resting spot in a dell a couple of miles outside Moria, nearly to their camp for the night much closer to Lothlorien (but not quite there). They had to continue to put some distance between themselves and the Orcs, Trolls and Balrog, and so continued walking after nightfall.

We start with Legolas and Aragorn fawning over Lothorien. Gimli expresses a doubt that any Elves still live there, and Legolas seems oddly unsure himself.

‘It is long since any of my own folk journeyed hither back to the land whence we wandered in ages long ago,’ said Legolas, ‘but we hear that Lorien is not yet deserted, for there is a secret power here that holds evil from the land.”

Since Tolkien was basically making this up as he went, he had no prior conception of the Mirkwood Elves originating in Lothorien. In the First Age, many of the Elves lived in Lindon, which was then along the Blue Mountains. This was east of Beleriand, where most of the Children of Hurin events took place. When the world was drastically changed at the end of the First Age, suddenly the Blue Mountains and Lindon became beach-front property.

At the beginning of the Second Age, those that didn’t say good-bye to Middle-earth and sail to the West started to move eastward. This is when Thranduil came to Greenwood/Mirkwood. Others went to various other places such as Rivendell and Hollin (yeah, I’m compacting stuff).

Just how the Elves came to Lothlorien is sort of hard to decipher, and we’ll delve more into that in a few weeks. Tolkien really didn’t address this in the Lord of the Rings. Long after publication, he would return to it to flesh it all out, changing some stuff as he went.

The Elves of Mirkwood, under Thranduil, were kin and neighbors of the Elves of Lorien. Sometime in the Second Age, Oropher, Thranduil’s father, had left Lothlorien and headed north for Greenwood the Great (later named Mirkwood when things went sour).


“This he did to be free from the power and encroachment of the Dwarves of Moria, which had grown to be the greatest of the mansions of the Dwarves recorded in history….”

Recall that when the Fellowship had left Moria, they used a road that had once been paved, but was now broken. It was paved towards Lothlorien. Apparently Oropher really wasn’t keen on this idea, but that’s not the only reason. He also “resented the intrusions of Celeborn and Galadriel into Lorien.”

According to this version of things, the Silvan/not-yet-Greenwood/Mirkwood Elves were led by Oropher into Lorien, but when the Dwarves became too busy and Galadriel became too Galadriel-esque, he had to split.

When Legolas said that it had been long since any of his people went to Lorien, he didn’t mean that they had no contact with the Elves of Lorien since leaving. There was the War of the Last Alliance at the end of the Second Age, and Oropher gathered an army together to fight alongside the Elves from Lorien, which was actually lesser in number than his own.

“The Silvan Elves were hardy and valiant, but ill-equipped with armour or weapons in comparison with the Eldar of the West; also they were independent, and not disposed to place themselves under the command of Gil-galad. Their losses were thus more grievous than they need have been, even in that terrible war.”

The plan was for all of the forces to attack Mordor at the same time, but Oropher, being independent, stepped off early and his men were slaughtered wholesale. Tolkien writes that the Elves from Lorien suffered 50% casualties, mostly from being cut off from their support. Oropher’s men, however, suffered more. He was killed in the charge, and the command dissolved to Thranduil, who survived. When they returned to Greenwood, they did so with only a third of the men they brought with them.

So we can see, that the Silvan Elves didn’t exactly endear themselves to any of the other Elves in Middle-earth. And while the Elves of Lothlorien kept to themselves, Thranduil’s people did the same. So much so, that it was only rumor that held either to still be alive. If you look at a map, Greenwood/Mirkwood and Lothlorien are not that far apart, separated only by the River Anduin and not too many miles. Even Dol Guldor wasn’t really between them. But as we know, Galadriel was aloof and Thranduil was cranky and bitter, so it’s hardly surprising.

Anyway, this is why Legolas didn’t know much about them. Aragorn, however, did, “and sighed as if some memory stirred in him.” Those who have read ahead know why that was.

And then there was Boromir. He had a pretty good point, actually. So far, they had taken some fairly unfamiliar and curious paths, and basically all of them ended badly. Why then would they take another? He had heard of this Lothlorien place, “and it is said that few come out who once go in; and of that few none have escaped unscathed.”

Aragorn got huffy and said that those who entered would not be “unchanged” rather than “unscathed,” though honestly, “unscathed” is probably the better term. Aragorn was biased and though Boromir was only working off of rumors, he was definitely on the right path about this being the wrong path (okay, this is sort of controversial, but we’ll get to that later, too).

But like it or not, Boromir had to face that going through Lorien was really the only way to go. Sure, they could have bypassed it, but Aragorn was known there, though he didn’t let that bit of information slip just yet.

In the end, Aragorn sort of prophesied that though it was “perilous,” it was “fair and perilous; but only evil need fear it, or those who bring some evil with them.”

That’s all cute and poetic, but maybe he forgot about Frodo who was carrying a big ol’ chunk of Evil around his neck. It’ll take awhile, but we’ll see this have some strange ending before it’s all through.

Camera: Imperial Savoy Film: Fuji Velvia 50 (expired mid90s)

Camera: Imperial Savoy
Film: Fuji Velvia 50 (expired mid90s)

A Few Notes

  • Pretty much everything comes quoted about the history of the Greenwood Elves comes from Unfinished Tales. There’s definitely more to this story, especially concerning Galadriel, but we’ll get there when we get there.
  • I swear, half this post is me telling you what I’ll write about later.
  • According to the mileage that I’m using, the Fellowship meets the Elves from Lothorien at Mile 398. We stop this post at Mile 395.
  • In the next post (Monday), we’ll talk about Nimrodel! I had no idea she was so awesome. And then, next week, we’ll delve into the history of the Balrogs! I’m so excited!

About the Photo
The Fellowship was walking along the Silverload, and I imagine it too look sort of like this, especially with the trees on their side of the river. This is actually the Green River in Utah. I think. It’s really hard to remember.


  • Day 172
  • Miles today: 5
  • Miles thus far: 849 (395 from Rivendell)
  • 42 miles to Lothlórien
  • 930 miles to Mt. Doom

Today’s place in the narrative begins with: When they had eaten… and ends with …Follow me! Book II, Chapter 6, Lothlorien. Along the Silverload, nearly to the woods of Lothlorien. January 15, 3019 TA. (map)

Happy 100th Anniversary, Middle-earth! (Basically)

Today Middle-earth turns 100 years old! On September 24, 1914, Tolkien wrote the poem “The Voyage of Earendel the Evening Star” while staying with his aunt at Phoenix Farm in Gedling. He was twenty-two years old and studying at Oxford.

Shortly after he wrote the poem, Tolkien admitted to a friend that he didn’t really know what it was about, but he would “try to find out.” He’d spend the next six decades on that.

The poem introduced Earendel the character, as well as the idea of him becoming the Morning Star. It was the first writing to have anything to do with what would eventually become Middle-earth.

Neither the name Earendel nor the term Middle-earth were invented by Tolkien. Both came from the Anglo-Saxon poem “Crist”:


Hail Earendel, brightest of angels,
over Middle-earth to men sent,
and true radiance of the Sun
bright above the stars, every season
thou of thyself ever illuminest.

Earendel actually meant “morning star” in Old English (in a round about way, I guess). And Middle-earth (translated from middangeard) was the term used for the parts of the land where people could live.

Curiously, Tolkien did not use the term Middle-earth right away. In fact, it wasn’t until (probably) 1937, when writing the Fall of Numenor, that he used it. Prior to that, he called it various things like Great Lands, Hither Lands, Outer Lands, and even middangeard. So maybe it’s more accurate to say that Middle-earth was conceived today, born in 1917 and then finally named in 1937. But really, that’s splitting hairs.

You can read the poem here.

Also, you can read quite a bit about all of this at John Garth’s blog.

Camera: Kodak Brownie No. 2 Model D Film: Kodak Verichrome (expired in 1964)

Camera: Kodak Brownie No. 2 Model D
Film: Kodak Verichrome (expired in 1964)


About the Photo

What better way to illustrate a poem about the ocean from 1914 than a photo of the ocean taken with a camera that was made in 1914 using film that expired in 1964? This was taken a week and a half ago at Ruby Beach along the Washington coast. Usually even film this old is in better condition, but there’s not much you can do about things like that.

The Passive-Aggressive Mourning of Aragorn

Though I have a few other things in mind, I’d like to take this time to look at the Fellowship immediately after Gandalf’s death. Gandalf was killed in the early afternoon of January 15, and shortly after that, the Fellowship escaped from Moria. They had before them the rest of the afternoon and evening. They didn’t simply escape and then bump into the Elves from Lothlorien.

With the aid of the maps in Barbara Strachey’s Journeys of Frodo, we can see that this day was quite a busy one, though they walked less than 20 miles. (Here’s another map.)

The first thing the Fellowship did was mourn. Aragorn started it off with a bit of “I told you so” (too soon, hunk). ‘Farewell, Gandalf!’ he cried. ‘Did I not say to you: if you pass the doors of Moria, beware? Alas I spoke true! What hope have we without you?’ This sounds very similar to the Dwarves’ lamentations in The Hobbit after Gandalf left them.

Following a short pep talk, Aragorn became their leader, pointing out Dimrill Stair – a series of small waterfalls, and pointing out that they should have come that way, as if he were some Monday morning quarterback. Of note is the mountain Caradhras, which had provided the snowstorm that kept them from using the Redhorn Pass and Dimrill Stair. Now it was sunny and would have been relatively easy to cross.

This must have been very hard on Gimli. He had always wanted to see Moria and the Mirrormere, which they came upon next. He recalled Gandalf telling him “May you have joy of the sight!,” but now all seemed lost. “Now long shall I journey ere I have joy again.”

The path they traveled was once a great paved Dwarvish road. Now it was old and cracked and resembled stairs more than a highway. Along the path, there were ruins, and then a single broken column. This was Durin’s Stone.

This was not Durin’s grave, but a monument to mark where Durin the Deathless looked down into the Mirrormere and saw a crown upon his head. Actually, it was the reflection of the mountains, but Dwarves apparently dug symbolism as much as Mithril. They saw seven “stars,” which Durin had seen as well. This probably went on to represent the seven Durins that they believed would come. It was also where Balin was killed, though I’ll get to that at a later date (promise).

The Fellowship then followed the Silverload toward Lothlorien, their next destination. In a very real way, at this point, Tolkien was making it up as he went along, inventing Lothlorien and its inhabitants as he wrote (more later on this too).

Though Aragorn was leading, he was using the roads which Gandalf had selected to get them to Lothlorien, though really, there seems to be only one way to get there. At any rate, when Legolas saw Lothlorien, he talked about its trees.

He was speaking of the mallorn trees, though he didn’t use the name. This was (almost) the only place in Middle-earth where they grew. They sort of resembled a beech tree in both trunk and leaves, though the mallorn’s leaves were bigger. We learn from Legolas, they the leaves didn’t fall in the autumn, but instead turned gold and stayed like that all winter. Come spring, new green leaves would begin to appear, and also blossoms like the cherry tree. They bloomed in the summer, and when they did the golden leaves would fall off, leaving the newer green leaves behind. The mallorn, like the beech, had nuts, though these had silver shells.

At this point in his writing, I don’t think Tolkien had much of the back story concerning how the trees came to Middle-earth from Numenor, but eventually, he would decide that Gil-galad gave some of the seeds to Galadrield, and it was because of her power that they grew, though not as mighty as they did in Numenor.

Shortly after seeing the forest quite a ways before them, Frodo and Sam began to lag behind, as they had been wounded in the fighting. Aragorn, I’m noticing, can get a bit passive-aggressive. When he saw how far behind Frodo and Sam had fallen, he apologized – sort of. “You should have spoken. We have done nothing to ease you, as we ought, though all the orcs of Moria were after us.” That’s sort of dickish, no? Clearly, he was spending too much time around Elves.

Soon enough, they found a dell and took a bit of rest. They were only a few miles from Moria at this point, so resting wasn’t exactly something they wanted to do. It was around 3pm and the sun was soon going to set. If they didn’t want a repeat of the events following the Dwarves’ adventures after leaving the Misty Mountains, they better make it short.

They started a fire and Aragorn tended to Sam and Frodo’s wounds, using the same athelas leaves that he had gathered at Weathertop. Though Sam was willing to be tended, Frodo wasn’t. This is where they found that Bilbo’s Mithril armor has saved Frodo’s life.

Nobody but Frodo and Bilbo knew he had it, though Gandalf might have been suspicious back in the guard room in Moria: “Bilbo had a corslet of mithril-rings that Thorin gave him. I wonder what has become of it? Gathering dust still in Michel Delving Mathom-house, I suppose.”

Gandalf suggested that its worth was greater than the whole Shire put together, but once Gimli got a look at it, he noted that the wizard undervalued it. And that it saved the life of the Ringbearer several times during the fight, its value was truly immeasurable.

Camera: Argus C3 Film: Svema 125

Camera: Argus C3
Film: Svema 125

A Few Note

  • In Friday’s post, we’ll talk a little bit about Lothlorien and Thranduil. Ready for some history? Sure you are!

About the Photo
I wish I would have taken more photos in the Alpine regions of the Cascades (which is basically like the ground over which the Fellowship is walking now). But here’s this little dell – a sort of shabby depiction of the dell in the book, but that’s okay. It was taken last month on Mt. Rainier.


  • Day 171
  • Miles today: 5
  • Miles thus far: 844 (390 from Rivendell)
  • 47 miles to Lothlórien
  • 935 miles to Mt. Doom

Today’s place in the narrative begins with: For some time Frodo and Sam managed… and ends with …and that will seldom chance while your quest lasts. Book II, Chapter 6, Lothlorien. Past the Silverload, near a dell where they made their camp. January 15, 3019 TA. (map)

‘Fly, You Fools!’ He Cried, and Was Gone (Also – Happy Hobbit Day, Gandalf is Dead)

And here it is – the passage where Gandalf dies. So many other things happen, of course – there’s the discovery of Balin’s Tomb, the Orc attack, and the revelation of the Balrog. Actually, there’s even more. In this five mile stretch, the Fellowship makes it out of Moria, past Durin’s stone and the Mirrormere.

But what I want to take a look at today are the last moments of Gandalf the Grey’s life. His leaving the Fellowship is huge, to be sure, but in the days of Bilbo and The Hobbit, it was just how Gandalf worked. He’d be with them for a bit, and then simply leave for some other task. Even in this story, he had been “delayed” by something or other.

From the time they rose that morning, Gandalf’s only mission was to get them out of Moria. They were close to its edge, but he wasn’t sure of their exact position. Still, Gandalf wished to have a look around while they searched for the exit.

This is how they found Balin’s Tomb, which not only gave Gandalf a good idea where they were, but where they had to go to get out. And then there were drums.

‘Trapped!’ cried Gandalf. ‘Why did I delay? Here we are, caught, just as they were before.’

Gimli had been mesmerized by the last entry in the Book of Mazarbul “We cannot get out.” He was repeating it, and it seems as if Gandalf might have been taken under its “spell” for a second. Then he says, “But I was not here then. We will see what – ”

With that, Gandalf took charge, correcting the plans of both Aragorn and Boromir, hunks to the end. It was soon discovered that there were Orcs, Uruks and even a cave-troll. During the ensuing melee, Gandalf isn’t mentioned at all, until the end when he calls for a timely retreat. Through it, he acts as a rear guard, though Aragorn protested. ‘Do as I say!’ said Gandalf fiercely. ‘Swords are no more use here. Go!’

Through his powers, Gandalf held back the enemy for as long as he could, admitting that he was “rather shaken.” After walking for an hour without the sounds of pursuit (mostly going down stairs), Gandalf admitted that he had been “suddenly faced by something that I have not met before.”

Gandalf had heard the Orcs talking of fire, and then he felt through the door that something else had entered the chamber. “The orcs themselves were afraid and fell silent.” Gandalf could tell that the thing had “perceived” him and his spell cast upon the door.

This was the Balrog, and here we learn a bit about it (before actually knowing it’s a Balrog). Gandalf did not have any idea what it was, “but I have never felt such a challenge.” It wasn’t necessarily stronger than him, but it cast a counter-spell, which nearly broke Gandalf. He doesn’t just say that it nearly broke his own spell, but that it nearly broke him. Of course, Gandalf’s spell was fully broken by the Balrog’s counter, and he had to cast another, which ultimately broke the door.

With the door gone, Gandalf should have been able to get a look at the thing before him. But the only glimpse afforded to him before it threw the wizard down the stairs showed him that “something dark as a cloud was blocking out all the light inside.”

It can’t be stressed enough that Gandalf didn’t know that it was a Balrog. This says quite a bit about the War of Wrath that closed out the First Age. So thorough was the destruction of Morgoth that everything related to him was wiped out, including Balrogs – or so it was thought.

Gandalf knew that there were many evil things in Middle-earth that had no connection to either Morgoth or Sauron. They were evil for evil’s sake and maybe even too numerous to count. So it’s not really surprising that he didn’t know specifically what it was.

During a brief respite, Gandalf said to Frodo that he took after Bilbo. “There is more about you than meets the eye, as I said of him long ago.” Gandalf said that a couple of times to Bilbo – or something similar. “There is always more about you than anyone expects!”

As they continued, led by Gandalf, they saw the light of fire set by the Orcs. It seems to have been set before they confronted them in Balin’s Tomb, as Gandalf led them through another passageway instead of the main corridor. It placed the fire between the Fellowship and the Orcs. All that separated our heroes from escape was the Bridge of Khazad-Dum.

The bridge was narrow and dangerous, and spanned a dark and seemingly bottomless chasm. Gimli now took the lead while Gandalf and Legolas took the rear guard position.

After giving the description of the Balrog (“a great shadow, in the middle of which was a dark form, of man-shape maybe, yet greater; and a power and terror seemed to be in it and to go before it.”) it’s Legolas who knows what it is.

Since he was born after the War of Wrath, Legolas had definitely never seen a Balrog before. But he was probably raised with the legends enough to know exactly what one looked like. That probably seems a bit of a stretch. Why have Legolas know what it is at all? Why not Gandalf?

‘A Balrog,’ muttered Gandalf. ‘Now I understand.’ He faltered and leaned heavily on his staff. ‘What an evil fortune! And I am already weary.’

Now Gandalf understood what he saw at the door in the brief second before he was thrown down the stairs. Like Legolas (apparently), he knew the history of the Balrogs, their powers, and that they could kill all of them before breakfast.

‘Fly! This is a foe beyond any of you. I must hold the narrow way. Fly!’

The battle between Gandalf and the Balrog is really fascinating. Though Gandalf had Glamdring in his right hand, this wasn’t really a battle of physical strength. The Balrog could see what Gandalf was – an Ishtar, a wizard. Or at the very least, he could see that Gandalf was no ordinary Man or even some lofty necromancer. Just to drive that point home, Gandalf called:

“I am the servant of the Secret Fire, wielder of the flame of Arnor. You cannot pass. The dark fire will not avail you, flame of Udun. Go back to the Shadow! You cannot pass.”

Here, Gandalf was telling the Balrog that he was one of the Ainur – that he was a Maiar. The flame of Arnor is the same Flame Imperishable that Illuvatar gave to the Ainur in the Ainulindale of the Silmarillion. And while Gandalf had within him the Flame Imperishable, the Balrog was merely the “flame of Udun,” a flame from beneath Thangorodrim, where Morgoth used to live. Unlike Gandalf, the Balrog served a dead master.

The fight then turned more physical, though both were obviously augmented by their powers. But that didn’t last long. With his staff, Gandalf purposely broke the bridge which the Balrog had now stepped upon. The demon fell, but caught Gandalf with his whip. “He staggered and fell, grasped vainly at the stone, and slid into the abyss.”

Camera: Bolsey Jubilee Film: Polypan F 50

Camera: Bolsey Jubilee
Film: Polypan F 50

A Few Notes

  • I realize that I’m necessarily skipping quite a bit. A slew of things happen and there are a slew of things to talk about. Soon enough, Tolkien will enter another walking montage and it’ll allow me to go back and rummage around some.
  • It’s fun that Boromir’s horn stops the Balrog for a moment. It must have been some crazy Chuck Mangione coming from that Horn of Blasting, no? It feels so good!
  • Did you ever notice the similarities between the fight between the Gandalf vs. Balrog fight and the Obi-Wan vs. Vader fight? Obi-War even has his very own “Fly you fools!” moment (Run, Luke, Run!).

About the Photo
Obviously, finding a bridge in a mine which spans a chasm is pretty unlikely. And while I had certain land bridges in mind (such as a dark, b&w shot of something like this), I wasn’t able to get to any. So there’s this old railroad drawbridge in Lewiston, Idaho. Look! You can even seen Gandalf’s “blinding sheet of white flame” springing up to crack the bridge!


  • Day 170
  • Miles today: 5
  • Miles thus far: 839 (385 from Rivendell)
  • 52 miles to Lothlórien
  • 940 miles to Mt. Doom

Today’s place in the narrative begins with: Frodo sat up. and ends with …calling Boromir to come with him. Book II, Chapter 4-6. From Moria’s East Gate to near the Silverload. 22nd day out of Rivendell. January 15, 3019 TA. (map)

To Be the Deathless that Returned (More than You Ever Wanted to Know about Dwarvish Reincarnation)

This relatively long passage details the Fellowship’s steps into the 21st Hall of the North End, in the Mines of Moria. It’s here where Gandalf becomes more sure of the way. Tired, they decide to camp in a corner of the hall. Gimli recites the “World Was Young” poem, they learn about Mithril, and finally go to sleep.

You can really tell that something is building. It’s clear that they are nearly out of Moria. Gandalf: “At last we are coming to the habitable parts, and I guess that we are not far now from the eastern side.”

This all seemed pretty hopeful, but Gandalf warned them that it was not quite over yet. Tolkien described the darkness of the hall as “hollow and immense, and they were oppressed by the loneliness and vastness of the dolven halls and endlessly branching stairs and passages.”

As they were about to sleep, Sam got a bit talkative, and Gimli told the story of Moria’s founding by Durin the Deathless via poem. The post I made on Monday basically echoes this story. However, the last stanza of the poem delves into a bit of Dwarvish lore.

But still the sunken stars appear
In dark and windless Mirrormere;
There lies his crown in water deep,
Till Durin wakes again from sleep.

Though pretty much everyone knew that Durin the Deathless actually died, the Dwarves believed otherwise. In “Durin’s Folk,” we learn that Durin the Deathless died before the end of the First Age. But it’s hinted that the Dwarves might believe that he was reincarnated.

“It came to pass that in the middle of the Third Age Durin was again its king, being the sixth of that name.”

In a draft of “Durin’s Folk,” Tolkien went into a bit more detail. He explained that after Durin the Deathless’ death, an heir was born into that family line “so like until his Forefather that he received the name of Durin, being held indeed by the Dwarves to be the Deathless that returned. This went on until the last Durin was killed by the Balrog.

This seems rather implausible since a new Durin would have to be born before the old Durin died. At the time of the draft, Tolkien also composed a family tree, which showed seven generations passing between Durin the Deathless and Durin III (who was later replaced by Durin VI in the final draft). So basically, the reincarnation of Durin would come roughly ever other generation. In subsequent renderings, the generations between Durin the Deathless and the final Durin went from seven to twelve to “many.”

In an essay that’s been entitled “Of Dwarves and Men,” Tolkien explored this even further. While mostly it discusses their language and relation to Men and Elves, it also goes a bit into their philosophy.

Tolkien seemed then to back away from the reincarnation idea (or rather, to have the Dwarves back away from it). He explained that the name Durin was “they name they gave to the prime ancestor of the Longbeards and by which he was known to Elves and Men.” It was, he wrote “simply a word for ‘king’ in the language of the Men of the North of the Second Age.” Of all the names used by the Dwarves in the Elder Days, this was the only one that survived, though all were from “a long ‘dead’ Mannish language.”

It’s weird to see Tolkien head in this direction. When he first came up with the names for the Dwarves while writing The Hobbit they were simply nicked from the Old Norse poem ‘Völuspá’. Now, it seems, he’s linking them back to the Norse – “a long ‘dead’ Mannish language.” In a note, Christopher Tolkien posits that the name Durin wasn’t “the ‘real’ Mannish name of the Father of the Longbeards,” but rather “is a name derived from Old Norse, and thus a ‘translation’.”

And then, toward the very end of his life, Tolkien again returned to this idea of Dwarvish reincarnation. That the Dwarves held the belief that Durin was reincarnated at least six time was clear, but he stated plainly that it was a “false notion.” It was, he wrote, “in some ways connected with the various strange ideas which both Elves and Men had concerning the Dwarves, which were indeed largely derived by them from the Dwarves themselves.”

This enters into the strange quandary of just who wrote the tales recorded as the Lord of the Rings and the Silmarillion. The former was certainly by Men (Hobbits, mostly), though derived partially from Elvish knowledge. The latter was completely Elvish book (though Bilbo might have been the translator). With either, Dwarvish input was nil. It was because of this lack that assumptions were made and misunderstanding occurred.

“For the Dwarves asserted that the spirits of the Seven Fathers of their races were from time to time reborn in their kindreds. This was notably the case in the race of the Longbeards whose ultimate forefather was called Durin, a name which was taken at intervals by one of his descendants, but by no others but those in a direct line of descent from Durin I.”

The Dwarves did not believe that Durin VI, who was killed by the Balrog (Durin’s Bane), would be the last. They prophesied that in the line of Dain Ironfoot, Durin VII would appear one day. It was he who would be the last. So detailed was this philosophy, that the Dwarves held that the Durins all “retained memory of their former lives as Kings, as real, and yet naturally as incomplete, as if they had been consecutive years of life in one person.” Even more strange was the idea that their memories were “clearer and fuller of the far-off days.”

This essay seems to have been written from the Elvish point of view. It laments that just how this Dwarvish reincarnation came to pass “the Elves did not know; nor would the Dwarves tell them much more on the matter.” What information they had was obtained by Legolas through Gimli – so take that as it may come.

However, this information was corroborated by Noldor, who claimed to have learned it from Aule himself. They gave even more details. This was a gift from Aule “that the spirit of each of the Fathers (such as Durin) should, at the end of the long span of life allotted to Dwarves, fall asleep, but then lie in a tomb of his own body, at rest, and there its weariness and any hurts that had befallen it should be amended. Then after long years he should arise and take up his kingship again.”

Tolkien mused that Dwarvish flesh decayed much more slowly then Man flesh. Also, that this reincarnation/reawakening would only happen “when by some chance or other the reigning king had no son. So Durin became a sort of substitute king. Strange stuff, here.

P1070292

A Few Notes

  • If you had any questions about the Dwarves during the Second and Third Ages, and how they got along with Men, you should find yourself a copy of The Peoples of Middle-Earth by Christopher Tolkien. That’s where the “Of Dwarves and Men” essay is published. Also, it’s just an amazing book – one of my favorites in the History of Middle-Earth series.
  • The essay “Of Dwarves and Men” was probably written around October 1969. It originally contained one of my favorite sections later published in Unfinished Tales: “The Druedain.” It’s where the wonderful story “The Faithful Stone” had its origin.
  • I’m not exactly sure how the Dwarves didn’t notice that the new Durin wasn’t just the old body of the old Durin. I mean, supposedly someone had to give birth to the new Durin. None of this really makes sense though. But by the time of the LotR, this was all nearly-forgotten legends.

About the Photo
This is the first digital photo that I’ve used in the 170ish posts of the blog. It’s a railroad snowshed at Stevens Pass in the Washington’s Cascade Mountains. In 1909, there was an incredibly horrific avalanche that killed 96 people. After that, they built this. It’s now part of a hiking trail and really easy to get to. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to do it this year, so I had to use a digital image taken in 2009. Still, this really reminds me of the Hall in Moria.

“…a vast roof far above their heads upheld by many mighty pillars hewn of stone.”


  • Day 169
  • Miles today: 5
  • Miles thus far: 834 (380 from Rivendell)
  • 57 miles to Lothlórien
  • 945 miles to Mt. Doom

Today’s place in the narrative begins with: They had marched as far…. and ends with …glimmered faint and distantly. Book II, Chapter 3. Inside the Mines of Moria! 22nd day out of Rivendell. January 14, 3019 TA. (map)

The Invention of Moria (Fimbulfami, Bladorthin, and More than a Few Goblins)

On Monday, we looked at the history of Moria that’s given in Tolkien’s books, finding that it went back to nearly the creation of Arda. Today, we’ll take a look at how Tolkien brought Moria into existence in his writings.

Moria is not something that arose with Lord of the Rings, but dates from The Hobbit:

“I did not ‘get hold of it,’ I was given it,” said the wizard. “Your grandfather Thror was killed, you remember, in the mines of Moria by Azog the Goblin.”

At least, that’s how it appears in today’s printing of the book. But it was not such an easy road to get to this bit of exposition.

This scene, without any mention of Moria, appeared in the very first scribblings of a draft. Here, the wizard pulled out a map and showed it to the dwarves, led by “Gandalf,” Thorin’s name before it was Thorin.

‘This [the map] I had from Fimbulfami(?) – your grandfather, Gandalf,’ he said in answer to the dwarves’ excited questions.

So yes, Thorin was originally named Gandalf, and Thror was originally named Fimbulfami. Tolkien wasn’t quite sure about this name, and actually wrote the “(?)” following it. Wonder why….

And then, it was in the (more or less) second draft of the opening chapter where the wizard (now named Bladorthin) explained to Gandalf the dwarf how he acquired the map.

‘I didn’t,’ said the wizard; ‘I was given it. Your grandfather Gandalf you will remember was killed in the mines of Moria by a goblin.’

You’ll notice that the character of Azog was not yet named, but came into existence in this moment. In the manuscript, Tolkien began to name the goblin, but scribbled out a capitol letter – that was as close as he got. (More on this later.)

At any rate, Moria was born. It was not written about in the early Silmarillion manuscripts, or in the Lays of this or that. It came from The Hobbit. But though it was the place of Gandalf’s [proto-Thorin’s] grandfather’s death, it was nothing more. There was nothing at all to suggest its future glory or its long past.

In fact, there’s a good chance that at this point, Tolkien believed it to be little more than another goblin dwelling. It was placed within the Misty Mountains, which during this stage of the writing, was known only as goblin territory.

Prior to writing The Hobbit, Tolkien had stated that the Dwarves lived in Nogrod and Belegost, which were far southwest of pretty much everything that was happening during the Silmarillion in Beleriand. The Misty Mountains hadn’t even come into existence yet! Strange to think that Moria arrived before them. This means that when Tolkien first wrote about Moria, he had no real idea where it was located (or, at least, never said that he did).

The above passage is the only time that Moria was mentioned in the earliest drafts of The Hobbit. Elrond’s mention of it was not yet written, and it wasn’t until a bit later, when he finally finished the book, that he had the Dwarves at the Battle of Five Armies shouting ‘Moria!’ as a battle cry. But even then, it was more of a “Remember the fallen grandfather” sort of deal. Though, by the time it was published, in 1937, a few more references were added, it was still not the Moria we all know today.

This came much later. In 1947, ten years after The Hobbit was published, Tolkien suggested a new turn for Chapter 5. He submitted what he believed was a draft which brought the Gollum scene more into line with what he was then writing for Lord of the Rings. His publisher ran with it and the book was changed. Tolkien wasn’t thrilled, but he didn’t complain much.

And so The Hobbit as we know it today was (mostly) born. But we’re still not finished. The book had undergone some hefty edits after the publication of Lord of the Rings. This includes the passage about Azog from above.

It appeared in the 1937 printing as:

“Your grandfather was killed, you remember, in the mines of Moria by a goblin.”

Then, in 1966, it was changed to:

“You grandfather Thror was killed, you remember, in the mines of Moria by Azog the Goblin.”

Thror and Thrain were both named in the original 1937 publication. Tolkien had come up with them while writing the Lake Town segments. That was also when he decided to rename Bladorthin to Gandalf and Gandalf to Thorin. It was a big day for him.

The actual story of the death of Thror was told in the third section of Appendix A in Lord of the Rings. The story of how Gandalf got hold of was given the map was written about in “The Quest of Erebor,” which was also to be part of the Appendices, but was cut.

You can find a version of it in Unfinished Tales, and the whole of it in the Annotated Hobbit by Douglas A. Anderson.

And so, as we’ve seen, Moria sort of came out of nowhere. For the first year or so, it didn’t have a home, and then when it finally got one, it wasn’t the ancestral home of Durin’s Folk, but a goblin-den. It wasn’t until he began writing Lord of the Rings that it grew roots with the telling of Balin’s move to Moria, which Tolkien wrote about in its early drafts. Only then did the geography and history finally come together.

Camera: Argus C3 Film: FujiColor 200

Camera: Argus C3
Film: FujiColor 200

A Few Notes

  • Trust me, you need a copy of the Annotated Hobbit.
  • I really love these montage moments – it allows me to dig a bit deeper. That said, we “missed” another reference to Frodo hearing the flap flapping of Gollum’s feet.
  • The reincarnation of Durin I – VII in the next post! Seriously weird stuff ahead.

About the Photo
Say, you’re the Misty Mountains, right? Well no, they’re the Strawberry Mountains in Oregon. Usually, I’d use the Cascades to depict the Misty Mountains, but I think these will do just fine. Though, I think the Misty Mountains were much higher.


  • Day 168
  • Miles today: 5
  • Miles thus far: 829 (375 from Rivendell)
  • 63 miles to Lothlórien
  • 950 miles to Mt. Doom

Today’s place in the narrative begins with: In this way they advance some fifteen miles…. and ends with …a following footstep that was not an echo. Book II, Chapter 3. Inside the Mines of Moria! 22nd day out of Rivendell. January 14, 3019 TA. (map)

The Coming of Dwarves, the Misty Mountains, and Moria

Since we’ve entered another (short) montage moment, where the Fellowship is making good time through the Mines of Moria, I thought it would be fun to take a look at Moria itself. To learn about Moria is to learn about the history of the Dwarves. And for that, we have to look at their creation.

This is told in the Silmarillion (and a good overview of this chapter is here). Sometime after the creation of Arda, during the Years of the Lamps, the Vala named Aule had heard of the coming of the Children of Illuvatar, the Elves. Since they had not actually come yet, nobody had any idea what they looked like. Aule, however, was incredibly excited and was “unwilling to await the fulfillment of the designs of Illuvatar.”

So he took it upon himself to make the Dwarves based upon a wild guess. He made them “strong and unyielding” so that they might fight Melkor/Morgoth. This seems mostly innocent, but that he hid his work from the other Valar seems to indicate that he knew he was overstepping his bounds.

Anyway, he managed to create “the Seven Fathers of the Dwarves in a hall under the mountains in Middle-earth.” Aule finished up and began to teach them how to speak. But that’s when Illuvatar stepped in. He had watched Aule ply his trade, and asked him why he had done this since it was obviously not in his authority to do so. Aule did not possess the power to give them freedom. As they were, the Fathers of the Dwarves were little more than chess pieces which Aule might move around as if he were some sort of bobo-Illuvatar. Was that what he wanted?

Aule said it was not. He only wanted “to love and to teach them.” There was, he said, room enough in Arda for a bunch of things, including Dwarves. He compared himself to a child playing, claiming that he was innocent. In the end, he told Illuvatar to “do with them what thou wilt. But should I not rather destroy the work of my presumption?” And with that, Aule grabbed his hammer to smash the poor little guys. They cowered and begged for mercy.

And Illuvatar showed them just that. He would not “fix” them to be like Elves, but would leave them as they were. However, they would not awaken before the Elves. “They shall sleep now in the darkness under stone, and shall not come forth until the Firstborn [Elves] have awakened upon Earth; and until that time thou and they shall wait, though long it seem.” They would then become the adopted children of Illuvatar.

Durin was the oldest of the Seven Fathers. Though it might seem as if the Dwarves were sleeping in the Mines of Moria, that doesn’t seem to be the case. In Appendix A, Tolkien wrote that once awakened, Durin and his people “came to Azanulbizar, and in the caves above Kheled-zaram in the east of the Misty Mountains he made his dwelling.”

So the Dwarves were awakened somewhere in some undisclosed mountains, and then traveled to Azanulbizar. This was before even the First Age, during the Years of the Trees. All through that time, the Elves were coming and going from Middle Earth, while Durin’s Folk dug out the Mines. Other Dwarves established trade routes, bartering their mined metals and crafts for needed goods.

Though Durin was called “the Deathless,” he died “before the Elder Days had passed,” meaning before the First Age was out. By the end of the First Age, other Dwarves gave up their own cities and united with Durin’s Folk.

As Sauron came to power and took over Middle-earth, Moria was untouched as, “the halls of Kazad-dum were too deep and strong and filled with a people too numerous and valiant for Sauron to conquer from without.” They would have to be conquered from within. The Dwarves had supplies, but their number dwindled as the years passed.

By the middle of the Third Age, Durin VI was in power, and the mines grew deeper and deeper as they dug for Mithril, “the metal beyond price that was becoming yearly ever harder to win.” This begs the question that if Moria was completely closed off, why did they still need to dig for metals? There was apparently no trading going on. If true, then they were doing it to increase their own horde.

Anyway, their deep digging “roused from sleep” a Balrog, “a thing of terror that, flying from Thangorodrim, had lain hidden at the foundations of the earth since the coming of the Host of the West.”

Now, there’s much debate over whether the Balrog had wings or not (and I’ll address that a bit in the coming weeks), but this line seems to indicate that he did – otherwise how might it fly? Of course, Tolkien could have been using the definition meaning “flee.” Thangorodrim was a group of three volcanoes created by Morgoth. During the War of Wrath, at the end of the First Age, they were destroyed, along with a huge chunk of Middle-earth.

The Misty Mountains, though now much closer to the Sea, were untouched, and the Dwarves in Moria hammered away, though other Dwarves aided the Men and Elves in the fight against Morgoth.

But exactly when the Balrog got there, I’m not really sure. The dates seems to conflict since the fall of Thangorodrim came long after Durin’s folk occupied the Misty Mountains. I’ll look into this later, when we get to the Balrog bit.

There’s more to the story of Durin’s Folk, of course, and we’ll get to that in the coming days, as well.

Camera: Argus C3 Film: Fuji Sensia II 200 (xpro)

Camera: Argus C3
Film: Fuji Sensia II 200 (xpro)

A Few Notes

  • Azanulbizar (which might be one of my favorite words ever) is also known at Dimrill Dale. It’s the valley below the East Gate of Moria. Though when Durin first came there, it was just a valley. Kheled-zaram is the Mirrormere, the lake in the valley.
  • As we learned in The Hobbit, Durin’s Folk were known as the Longbeards. It wasn’t until long after writing Lord of the Rings when Tolkien named the other six families. They were: “Blacklocks, Broadbeams, Firebeards, Ironfists, Stiffbeards, and Stonefoots.”
  • Apparently, Durin’s Folk who assembled in Moria were only two of the seven families of Dwarves. Who apart from the Longbeards, were with Durin, I don’t think Tolkien ever said.
  • In response to the Dwarves being created by Aule, Yavanna created the Ents. This, however, was okay with Illuvatar (it was in “the music”). “Would that the trees might speak on behalf of all things that have roots, and punish those that wrong them!” The Ents would awaken with the Elves.

About the Photo
This is the East Gate during the Seventh Age, right? Sure! Actually, it’s a gas station carved into the side of a small mountain in Utah. It’s kind of near and also kind of obnoxious.


  • Day 167
  • Miles today: 5
  • Miles thus far: 824 (370 from Rivendell)
  • 67 miles to Lothlórien
  • 955 miles to Mt. Doom

Today’s place in the narrative begins with: As far as they could judge it went in great mounting curves. and ends with quicker than they had done on their first march. Book II, Chapter 3. Inside the Mines of Moria! 22nd day out of Rivendell. January 14, 3019 TA. (map)

A (Small) Peek into Gandalf’s First Trip Through Moria

Through this short reading – only a paragraph and a half – we learn that while the others had slept in the guardroom in the Mines of Moria, Gandalf had decided which way to go. He had been faced with three passages. He did not like the “feel” of the middle way, or the “smell” of the left (“there is a foul air down there”). And so, it was the right-hand passage which he chose.

This decision was made not by knowing the right way, but by knowing (or deducing) the two wrong ways. It was not based upon Gandalf’s knowledge gained from his previous trip through Moria. And from how little he could recall from that trip, it’s pretty clear that nothing from then helped them now. That doesn’t mean that his prior jaunt through the mines was pointless, though.

Curiously, Tolkien never pinpointed the date that Gandalf made this journey. In the Tale of Years, he noted such seemingly mundane things as Umbar being made into a great fortress (2280 SA) and the year when Brego son of Eorl completes the Golden Hall (2569 TA), but never even mentions Gandalf’s first trip to Moria.

When the Fellowship was looking for the door of Moria, Gandalf quickly said in passing: “Yet it will not be the first time that I have been to Moria. I sought there long for Thrain son of Thror after he was lost. I passed through, and I came out again alive!”

Just to make sure we’re all on the same page, Thror was Thorin Oakenshield’s grandfather. He was slain by an Orc in Moria in the year 2790 of the Third Age (it’s now 3019). In 2799, the Dwarves and Orcs battled at the East Gate. In 2802, Thrain and Thorin settle beyond the Shire, where Thorin’s people would stay until the time of The Hobbit.

Thrain, however, left Thorin in 2841 (on April 21st, 100 years, almost to the day, from the start of The Hobbit) to go to Erebor, The Lonely Mountain, but was captured by Sauron and taken to Dol Guldur. Then, in 2850, Gandalf found Thrain in Dol Guldur.

So, since Gandalf went through Moria in search of Thrain, he must have done this between 2841 and 2850. Somewhere across those nine years, Gandalf alone walked the passages of Moria, moving from the East Gate to the West.

If you look at a map, you can see that Dol Guldor, situated in Mirkwood, is east of Moria. Gandalf wouldn’t have hit Dol Guldor first (otherwise, he would have never went through Moria, as he would have already found who he was searching for). This means that Gandalf had to cross the Misty Mountains at least twice. First through the Mines of Moria, and second at some other place.

It should also be kept in mind that Gandalf did not purposely find Thrain in Dol Guldor – he was there looking to see if the Necromancer was indeed Sauron. After passing through Moria, maybe Gandalf gave up on finding Thrain. This would put Gandalf’s trip through Moria perhaps closer to 2841 than to 2850. Let’s say 2845 to be safe. Regardless, by the time of the LotR, it was around 175ish since he had been through the mines.

Aside from a mention or two by Gandalf, there really isn’t anything more about his first trip through Moria. It was obviously uneventful. He didn’t run into Orcs and certainly (as we’ll see) knew nothing about the Balrog.

So where did this come from? And why put it in? It obviously didn’t matter – Gandalf couldn’t remember anything about it and nothing really helped him.

The basic outline for the story was given in The Hobbit, but Gandalf doesn’t mention going through Moria in search of Thrain. In his notes written before he wrote the first draft of this chapter, there’s no mention of Gandalf’s previous trip to Moria. However, in the actual first draft, Gandalf did speak of it (though claimed to be searching for both Thrain and Thror), but nothing more is said.

As the Fellowship, led by Gandalf, continues through the Mines, little things spark his memory, and ultimately, it was a good thing that he had been there before. But the way that Tolkien went about making that all happen seems a bit strange. It’s almost like he wanted to do more with it at first, but couldn’t make it work and left it in anyway (he did this a lot).

And don’t forget about Aragorn! He had also entered Moria through the East Gate, but did not go through. He went in, saw it was evil, and then left. But a more interesting story was hinted at in the first draft.

It was actually in a note made in the margin: “Trotter [proto-Strider, a hobbit] was caught there.” Just what was meant by that could be deduced from a similar idea Tolkien had for Trotter. While searching for Gollum, Trotter went into Mordor where he was “caught and imprisoned by the Dark Lord.”

“‘Ever since I have worn shoes,’ said Trotter with a shudder, and though he said no more Frodo knew that he had been tortured and his feet hurt in some way. But he had been rescued by Gandalf and saved from death.”

Camera: Mamiya C3 Film: FujiChrome Velvia 50 (RVP) expired mid90s

Camera: Mamiya C3
Film: FujiChrome Velvia 50 (RVP) expired mid90s

A Few Notes

  • This reading ends with the sentence: “The passage they chose wound steadily upwards.” Though Gandalf himself and alone had chosen the right-hand way, the word “they,” used by Tolkien, indicates that each of the decisions made by the individual members of the Fellowship effected them all. Their fates were intertwined.
  • This post wanders all over the place. I’m not sorry for that. I’m a little sorry that I don’t have an answer for you, but at this point, you’ve probably forgotten the question. I know I have.

About the Photo
This was taken in the West Virginia Penitentiary. It was somewhat like a mine, but very much like a prison. And since Thrain was imprisoned and Trotter, too, I thought it would work.


  • Day 166
  • Miles today: 5
  • Miles thus far: 819 (365 from Rivendell)
  • 72 miles to Lothlórien
  • 960 miles to Mt. Doom

Today’s place in the narrative begins with: It was Gandalf who roused them all from sleep. and ends with The passage they had chosen wound steadily upwards. Book II, Chapter 3. Inside the gate of Moria! 21st day out of Rivendell. January 13, 3019 TA. (map)

Fool of a Took! Illuvatar’s Guiding Hand or Just a Really Cool T-Shirt?

‘Fool of a Took!’ he growled. ‘This is a serious journey, not a hobbit walking-party.’

We move from one of the least-famous lines (Queen Beruthiel) to one of the most famous – “Fool of a Took.” In fact, it’s so famous that I made a shirt for it.

The Fellowship had gone roughly twenty miles into the bowels of Moria, finding themselves in a guardroom. They had only been walking a few hours, though apparently made some amazing time. Personally, I think Tolkien’s mileage here – which he is vague about – is pretty fuzzy. But that’s okay.

Anyway, Gandalf was lost and cranky – “I have no memory of this place at all!” There was a door and while Merry and Pippin tried to push their way in, Gandalf stopped them. He shined his staff-light inside and saw a well. This made grumpy Gandalf gloat a bit – “There!” And Aragorn added: “One of you might have fallen in and still be wondering when you were going to strike the bottom.”

Clearly everyone wanted to rest and were hasty and miserable to be around. Can you imagine what was going on in Boromir’s mind? Damn.

But Pippin “felt curiously attracted by the well.” This is incredibly interesting. He had no real reason to be attracted to it. There were plenty of wells in the Shire, so it wasn’t like some new amazing thing he had never seen before. Sure, it was in a mine, but by this time, and after twenty miles, the novelty of that was obviously wearing off.

So what happened? Why did Tolkien call it “curiously attracted”? There must be more to it. This phrase was there from the beginning, though it was Sam, and not Pippin, who was “curiously attracted.” He soon after changed ‘Sam’ to ‘Merry’ and only later decided that it was Pippin, after all. But that doesn’t matter.

What matters is what Pippin does next, as it completely changes everything. As we know, while the others were getting their beds ready, he peaked over the edge of the well, and then “moved by a sudden impulse,” he grabbed a stone and dropped it in. “He felt his heart beat many times before there was any sound. Then far below, as if the stone had fallen into deep water in some cavernous place, there came a plunk, very distant, but magnified and repeated in the hollow shaft.”

First Pippin was “curiously attracted” and then he was “moved by a sudden impulse.” Just what is going on here? Pippin, like all hobbits and men, has freewill, but maybe he’s got a bit less of it here. He’s most definitely not acting on his own impulses. The ramifications of this event are too important for it to be coincidence. Whether it was some dark force or even the Valar is pretty unclear – both had reasons to make this happen. But if I were a betting man, I’d say it was the Valar/Illuvatar pushing things along just so.

Gandalf immediately questioned the noise, and Pippin admitted what he had done. The wizard was “relieved,” but “angry, and Pippin could see his eye glinting.”

‘Fool of a Took!’ he growled. ‘This is a serious journey, not a hobbit walking-party. Throw yourself in next time, and then you will be no further nuisance. Now be quiet!’

Several minutes passed, and then there was knocking: “tom-tap, tap-tom.” This repeated. “They sounded disquietingly like signals of some sort.” Gandalf was uneasy. And rightly so, though he was more uneasy about which path to take in the morning.

Gandalf could not see his fate, but Tolkien had plotted it out even before writing his first draft. From the very first thought of this part of the story, the well and this incident were in his notes: “A deep pit to right. A loose stone falls in. Several minutes before they hear a noise of it reach bottom. After that some of them fancy a far off echo of small knocks at intervals (like signals?). But nothing further happens that night.”

At the end of his notes on this section, he wrote: “Here follows the loss of Gandalf.” This was the first time he contemplated killing Gandalf. In an earlier jotting, written some months before, this was never mentioned and wasn’t planned.

But this was all he had, thus far. Gandalf would die, and there were unusual things (the well, and Sam/Merry/Pippin’s curious attraction and impulse to throw a rock into it) that had to happen to kick things off.

Going back to the story, Pippin was given first watch by Gandalf, while everyone slept. The attraction to the well remained (now augmented by fear of something crawling out of it), and “he wished he could cover the hole, if only with a blanket, but he dared not move or go near it, even though Gandalf seemed to be asleep.”

This continuing attraction to the well was added in the final draft, allowing the reader to know that it wasn’t just a cranky Gandalf keeping Pippin away from the well.

But Gandalf was actually awake, and trying to figure out what to do the next morning. He was trying to remember his former journey (which I really want to dig into sometime). Unable to sleep, and probably feeling a little bad for snapping at Pippin, he rose and spoke to him in a “kindly tone.”


‘I know what is the matter with me,’ he muttered, as he sat down by the door. ‘I need smoke! I have not tasted it since the morning before the snowstorm.’

That would be the morning of the 10th. It was now the very early morning (around 1am-ish) of the 14th. Gandalf had become addicted and needed a smoke break. At least, that’s what he claimed. There was probably some truth to it, but he was also cranky at himself for not remembering the way through Moria. That crankiness was taken out on Pippin. Nevertheless, Gandalf lit his pipe and Pippin went to sleep.

Just a quick notes about the original draft (again). In this passage, Sam (who would ultimately be replaced by Pippin) wished he could cover the hole with a blanket, but didn’t get one, “even though Gandalf seemed to be snoring. Gandalf was actually not asleep, and the snores came from Boromir, who lay next him.”

The bit about the snores was cut, probably in an attempt to make the whole thing a bit more serious. After all, this really wasn’t a hobbit walking-party.

Camera: Polaroid 250 Land Camera || Film: Fuji FP-100c (reclaimed negative)

Camera: Polaroid 250 Land Camera || Film: Fuji FP-100c (reclaimed negative)

A Few Notes

  • What exactly is a ‘hobbit walking-party’? Since it’s hyphenated, I can only assume that it’s an actual party that is walking. Sort of like a party bus, except on furry feet. It is most definitely not serious business.
  • Sam openly worries about Bill the Pony once more. Sam is awesome.
  • Maybe the character who threw the rock became Pippin (from Sam and then Merry) because “Fool of a Took” sounds way better than “Fool of a Gamgee” or “Fool of a Brandybuck.” Fool of a Took is just perfect.
  • Soon we’ll be getting to Tolkien’s writers block. I’m really enjoying not only reading the story, but seeing how Tolkien first created it. I hope you are too.

About the Photo
By the time Pippin’s rock got to the bottom, this is how big it was. Well, maybe not, but it sure seemed that way. Actually, this is Yeager Rock in central Washington. It’s a 400 ton, twenty foot high glacier erratic. It’s not “supposed” to be where it is, but was carried by an Ice Age glacier, and left there when it retreated, some 15,000ish years ago. That’s basically yesterday. Young Earth creationists don’t even believe in the Ice Age. How they explain the marks left from glaciers and the huge boulders everywhere is: Noah’s Flood.

You can read and see more about all of this here.


  • Day 165
  • Miles today: 5
  • Miles thus far: 814 (360 from Rivendell)
  • 77 miles to Lothlórien
  • 965 miles to Mt. Doom

Today’s place in the narrative begins with: One of you might have fallen in… and ends with And the puff of smoke. Book II, Chapter 3. Inside the gate of Moria! 21st day out of Rivendell. January 13, 3019 TA. (map)