Writing with Tolkien Through Moria (and a Nazi Firebombing)

The Fellowship is just now closing in on Lothlorien proper, and this is the last few miles that Tolkien breezes through with a walking montage. Let’s celebrate this (and our halfish way point) by taking a look back at the two early drafts of the Mines of Moria chapters.

I covered quite a bit of this in the Balrog post, but let’s take a look at some other things Tolkien first thought about after deciding to drag the Fellowship through the Mines.

In the published version, the Fellowship arrived at the westward gate late in the evening, and was able to enter Moria that night. However, in the original draft, they actually arrived too late in the evening and had to encamp near the gates, still not knowing the location. In fact, Gandalf didn’t begin his search for the gates until around 9am the next day. And so it was the sun, and not the moon, that “shone across the face of the wall.”

One of the larger differences was word “gates.” It definitely meant plural. As originally conceived, the westward side of Moria was serviced by two separate gates. Gandalf: “There were two secret gates on the westward side, though the chief entrance was on the East.” One door was a “Dwarven Door,” and the other was an “Elven Door”. This idea was changed while writing the second draft. The phrase “and the Dwarven-door further south” was struck out in the manuscript, though it seems like he went back and forth on this idea before finally settling upon one gate.

No matter which gate was which, from the original draft, Gandalf had trouble figuring out the password. It wasn’t Merry who was “on the right track,” as in the published version, but Gandalf, who alone figured it out in all of the drafts until the final.

(I explored the early drafts of the Watching in the Water here.)

The walking montage through Moria was much the same in the original – even the mileage is identical, though the times were off. This, of course, changed the hour of the day when the rock was dropped down the well (by Sam in the original drafts).

It’s a much shorter description, but more or less the same. Some small differences appear, such as mithril being called “ithil” and Azanulbizar being named “Uruktharbun,” though that was quickly changed.

There’s one glaring difference that I forgot to mention and didn’t even occur to me until the Fellowship neared Balin’s Tomb. Frodo really wanted to meet some Dwarves, especially Balin, whom he remembered from when he [Balin] visited Bilbo. This is because Gimli was not yet part of the story! He would only be penciled in at the end of the first draft: “Gimli cast his hood over his face.”

Without Gimli, this would change everything. Tolkien must have thought so too, because he abruptly ended the first draft just as soon as they reached Balin’s Tomb. Though there would be notes here and there, Tolkien wouldn’t return to this chapter for quite some time.

From Autumn of 1939 until August of 1940, Tolkien hardly even looked at Lord of the Rings. When he came back, he began by revising the entire story up to Rivendell, and then rewrote the Council of Elrond chapter several times.

Also during this period, Tolkien rewrote The Fall of Numenor, as well as some things that he thought would be included in either the Silmarillion, which he hoped to publish as a companion volume, or the Appendices. All the while, Germany was bombing England. At times, Tolkien could see a red glow on the horizon – the fire bombing of Coventry, forty miles away.

Probably around December of 1940, Tolkien finally picked up the story at Balin’s Tomb. Here, we learn the fate of Balin’s Folk through the book left behind in the Tomb. In this draft, Balin entered Moria twenty years before. For the published version, Tolkien rethought this, pushing it ten years earlier.

Some differences exist between the published and the original draft, but they’re mostly minor. As far as the battle and Balrog go, I’ve written about those here.

There was, however, a problem he was facing concerning goblins and Orcs (and “black Orcs” as they were called in the original draft). Tolkien wrote in the original: ‘There are goblins: very many of them,’ he [Gandalf] said. ‘Evil they look and large: black Orcs.’ In another version of this, Gandalf calls them “real Orcs.”

I’m sure I’ll go into the whole history of Orcs at some later stage, but at this point in his writing, Orcs were nothing new, having been invented in the very earliest of his writings. But goblins did not equal Orcs for Tolkien just yet. Orcs were more formidable, goblins were shorter and kind of goofy. In the published version, goblins became nondifferent Orcs, and real/black Orcs became Uruks of Moria.

At any rate, just where he wanted to Fellowship to go after leaving Moria was something that Tolkien didn’t really figure out until finishing the Moria chapters. As he so often did, he wrote an outline. This time, it included chapter breaks and went until the very end of the story, though it was rough and vague and was missing many things that were to come.

As for Lothlorien, the name itself didn’t appear until the second draft of “The Ring Goes South” chapter (written just before Tolkien picked up the Moria story). It’s unlikely that he had any idea what Lothlorien was at that point, other than it was in the woods. After finishing the Moria chapters, in his notes, he wrote that Lothlorien was populated by Elves.

It’s not until he actually wrote the Lothlorien chapters that he fully developed the place and the people, including Galadriel, who didn’t exist at all until she appeared before the Fellowship. But I’ll get to all of that later.

For now, just understand that as we go forward, we are unwrapping Middle-earth along with Tolkien, discovering new places and people in almost the precise order in which they were created by the author. He was, in a very real way, making it up as he went along. It’s a wonderful thing, and we’ll get to experience that along with him.

Camera: Kodak Brownie No. 2, Model D (1914) Film: Shanghai GP3 100

Camera: Kodak Brownie No. 2, Model D (1914)
Film: Shanghai GP3 100

A Few Notes

  • Frodo is (a bit more than) half way to Mordor! I mean, my math could be (and actually was) a bit off, but we’re half way there! Huzzah! Only 881 miles to go!
  • I’m not exactly sure when to tell the Orcs’ story. It’ll be done in a similar way to how I handled the Balrogs. They’re not nearly as interesting, but their evolution was much more drastic and controversial, I think.
  • Next time we meet, we’ll explore Cerin Amroth, where we’ll gasp and swoon over the truest of loves ever told or something!

About the Photo
I suppose this looks something like the Misty Mountains. Maybe it’s as the Fellowship neared them. Or maybe it’s as they’re walking away. In reality, it’s the Olympic Mountains on the Washington Peninsula captured with a 100 year old camera and crappy Chinese film. Yay!


  • Day 181
  • Miles today: 5
  • Miles thus far: 894 (440 from Rivendell)
  • 22 miles to Lothlórien proper
  • 881 miles to Mt. Doom

Book II, Chapter 6, Lothlorien. Entering Lothlorien. January 17, 3019 TA. (map)

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