Gollum’s Honor Unmade: Tolkien’s Changes to the Creature

The character of Gollum, as read in The Hobbit, matches up perfectly with the Gollum we know from The Lord of the Rings. But this was not always so. In 1951, Tolkien heavily revised his original 1937 version of the “Riddles in the Dark” chapter, completely changing Gollum’s story.

In the original 1937 edition of The Hobbit, Gollum’s motives and demeanor were markedly milder than in Lord of the Rings. In doing this, he made the two Gollums one. The changes, which we’ll be uncovering today, are as curious as they are drastic.

In a Damp Hole There Lived a Glip

It was the summer of 1930, and on a blank page in a student’s exam book Tolkien had written “In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.” He soon followed this mysterious little line, allowing it to lead him where it would: to a wizard named Bladorthin and a brood of dwarves whose leader was named Gandalf (there was still a bit of name-shuffling to do). They took our Hobbit, Mr. Bilbo Baggins, on a quest which soon saw them separated in the caverners under the mountains. This was, of course, where Bilbo met Gollum who “lived on a slimy island in the middle of the lake.”

There’s a small hint, however, that Gollum’s character was based upon one of his own poems from two years prior. “Glip” was the poem’s title, as well as the name of this “slimy little thing.” It was part of a series entitled “Tales and Song of Bimble Bay.”

It is there that Glip steals his bones.
He is a slimy little thing
Sneaking and crawling under fishy stones,
And slinking home to sing
A gurgling song in his damp hole….

– From “Glip” by J.R.R. Tolkien (c1928)

Perhaps with this in mind, when Tolkien brought Bilbo, the Dwarves, and the Wizard into the dark caverns of the Misty Mountains, he might have brought old Glip along too.

His first pen strokes about this odd creature were:

“Deep down here by the dark water lived old Gollum. I don’t know where he came from or who or what he was. He was Gollum, as dark as darkness except for two big round pale eyes.”

Even in this early draft several features of Gollum’s character can already be found. For starters, we learn that he said “Gollum” when “he swallowed unpleasantly in his throat – that’s how he got his name.” Also, Gollum “only spoke to himself not you,” we’re told. He sometimes referred to himself as “precious” (though in the early versions, never called the ring “precious”).

And there was also the riddle game.

The Riddle Game

Though Bilbo and Gollum played the riddle game, it was much different from the version in the currently-available Hobbit. When originally written in 1931 and originally published in 1937, the riddle game was drastically different than the later revision in 1951 (three years prior to the release of The Lord of the Rings).

While the riddles themselves were basically the same from the beginning, Gollum’s origins were a great deal different.

“Asking (and sometimes answering) riddles had been a game he played with other funny creatures sitting in their holes in the long long ago before the goblins came, and he was cut off from his friends far under the mountains. It was the only game the old wretch could remember.”

This bit from the original manuscript painted a picture of Gollum as having always lived under the mountains. The Goblins came into his home, not the other way around.

When it was published in 1937, the above origin was nearly identical, with Gollum’s home still being the caves and lake under the mountains. The bit about the riddle game being the only game “the old wretch could remember” was cut.

Then, in 1951, Tolkien forced an important transformation:

“…before he lost all his friends and was driven away, alone, and crept down, down, into the dark under the mountains.”

This was a completely different origin for Gollum. He was now not born under the mountains, but was from somewhere else. The Goblins did not come and separate him from his friends, rather, he lost his friends and was driven away into the caves.

Of course, readers of Lord of the Rings know exactly why all of this was – Gollum had found the One Ring, murdered his cousin, and was exiled by his family.

Tolkien wished to bring the Hobbit story more in line with its sequel, Lord of the Rings, which was about to be published (1954), so he simply changed it completely.

Honor and Fear

In the original 1937 edition, Gollum promised to give Bilbo a present if he answered the riddles correctly. Of course, Gollum still wanted to eat the hobbit if Bilbo lost, but more than that, he wanted to play a game as he did long, long before.

We were assured that Gollum would honor the results of the game: “For one thing, Gollum had learned long ago that he was never to cheat at the riddle game.” It was more about tradition and fairness than anything else.

In the 1957 revision, Tolkien altered this as well. A similar passage is there, but the subject is Bilbo, not Gollum. It was Bilbo who knew “that the riddle-game was sacred and of immense antiquity, and even wicked creatures were afraid to cheat when they played at it.” Because of this, Bilbo wrongly believed that he could trust Gollum to keep his word.

But what word was that? Again, it depends on the version.

Gollum and the Present

As written in the original edition, Bilbo won the riddle game and Gollum went to retrieve the present he promised him at the start. This present, as Bilbo would find out at the conclusion of the game, was Gollum’s ring.

“Must we give it precious; yes we must – we must fetch it precious, and give it to the thing the present we promised.”

Gollum then paddled over to his island, but couldn’t find the present – “we haven’t the present we promised, and we haven’t even got it for ourselves.”

The narrator then explained that finally “Bilbo gathered that Gollum had had a ring – a wonderful, beautiful ring that he had been given for a birthday present, ages and ages before in old days when such things were less uncommon.”

Gollum begged for Bilbo’s pardon, apologizing profusely. “We are ssorry; we didn’t meant to cheat, we meant to give it our only only pressent, if it won the competition.” Bilbo quickly figured out the this was the same ring that he had picked up and put in his pocket.

Rather than receiving the present, Bilbo agreed to let Gollum off the hook on one condition: “Help me to get out of these places.”

And even though Gollum still wanted to eat Bilbo, he agreed to be his guide in order avoid cheating at the riddle game. Gollum agreed and with a bit of walking, he showed Bilbo the way out.

Gollum and “We Shows It The Way Out”

In the 1951 revision, in order to make it align with the Lord of the Rings, Tolkien changed Gollum’s almost innocent gift-giving to a false-promise to show Bilbo how to escape from the caverns.

“The Game of Riddles” by Cor Blok

When the game was won, Gollum promised to show Bilbo the way out, but had to go over to his island to get something first – as in the first edition, it was the ring.

Except Gollum had not promised to give it to Bilbo as a present. In this new version, Gollum wanted to slip it on, become invisible, and kill Bilbo, just as would catch and kill small goblins from time to time.

This time, when he couldn’t find the ring, rather than apologizing to Bilbo, Gollum decided to attack him, demanding to know what was in his pocket. The ring effortlessly slipped onto Bilbo’s finger, he vanished, and Gollum could not find him.

With that, Gollum guessed for sure that Bilbo had his ring. Bilbo then escaped Gollum and followed some Goblins out of the caverns.

Tolkien wrote some of his best Gollum stuff for this passage – and all of it was written after he finished writing Lord of the Rings. Yet, because of this, it’s here we see Bilbo’s pity, mentioned by Gandalf to Frodo in “The Shadow of the Past” chapter.

Tolkien originally wrote Gollum as a sympathetic creature, willing to give Bilbo his birthday present, an invisibility ring, specifically to honor the rules of the game Gollum himself suggested they play. When he could not keep his promise, he apologized and then willingly lead Bilbo out of the caverns.

Following his writing of The Lord of the Rings, but before it was published, Tolkien returned to The Hobbit and rewrote Gollum in his new, LotR identity.

What’s Next?

In our next post, while Gandalf is still spending most of the spring in the Shire, we’ll take a look at whether these changes were even necessary. We’ll also examine the changes made to the Ring and see if this forced Tolkien’s hand.

Camera: Imperial Satellite II (127)
Film: Ilord FP3 (x-06/1960)
Process: Rodinal 1+100; 60min
Nomade by Jaume Plensa, Des Moines, Iowa

So What *Did* Gandalf Know About the Ring? (And Why Didn’t He Do Anything About It?) [Part 2 of 2]

How is it possible that Gandalf failed to connect the dots pointing to Bilbo’s ring being the One Ring – Sauron’s Ring of Power? In our previous post, we looked at Gandalf’s history with the One Ring through the Silmarillion and The Hobbit. In this post, we’ll delve into the Lord of the Rings-era material to finally figure out when Gandalf knew it was the One Ring and why he seemed to do nothing about it.

Gandalf and the Ring Between the Stories

There are 59 years between the ending of The Hobbit (2942) and the Long-Expected Party kicking off the Lord of the Rings (3001). Across those nearly six decades, Gandalf learned much more about the Ring.

At the final White Council in 2953, Gandalf asked Saruman about the One Ring. Details about why he asked are sketchy, but it could possibly be that he finally began to seriously consider the idea that Bilbo’s magic ring was the One Ring. In the Silmarillion, however, we’re told that Gandalf wanted to attack Sauron before the Dark Lord found the One Ring again.

If Gandalf had any fears of this, they were (maybe) set aside by the assurances of Saruman who had studied the Rings of Power in depth. “Into Anduin it fell, and long ago, I deem, it was rolled to the Sea. There it shall lie until the end, when all this world is broken and the deeps are removed.”

Elrond, who was also at the White Council, was still a bit nervous that the One Ring might be found. Gandalf, however, likely took Saruman’s position, not knowing that Saruman had invented the story of it washing out to sea and was looking for the One Ring for himself.

Meanwhile, Gandalf kept an eye on Bilbo and noticed that he was not aging. A shadow fell on Gandalf again, but he pacified his fears – Bilbo came from a long-lived on his mother’s side. So he waited.

Let’s review. While the Three Rings of the Elves are accounted for, the location of the remaining Rings of Power are not all known. It’s assumed that at least four of the Seven Rings of the Dwarves are destroyed, but the Nine Rings for Men are definitely still in play.

It’s not clear whether Gandalf ever knew their location. Tolkien stated a good number of times that Sauron held the Nine Rings after turning the Men into Ringwraiths. There’s no reason for Gandalf to just assume that Sauron couldn’t disperse the Nine Rings again to make more wraiths. The same is true for the Seven Rings (which are probably identical to the Nine). The same would not be true for the One Ring, though it would be fairly obvious if Sauron possessed that again.

But here’s the rub – the Seven and Nine Rings all had jewels. However, can we assume that Gandalf definitely knew this? His hardcore research on the Rings of Power wouldn’t happen until 3017. Whether this was common knowledge among the Elves is unknown. Regardless, the chances of Bilbo’s ring being the One Ring, which to his knowledge was sunk in the sea, were slim. How would it have wound up in the caves under the Misty Mountains?

The Long-Expected Suspicion

Gandalf attended Bilbo’s eleventy-first birthday/going away party in 3001 of the Third Age. Bilbo wanted to play a final joke on the Hobbits by slipping the Ring on his finger and disappearing. But as he did, Gandalf created a “blinding flash” in hopes of giving the guests a more or less logical explanation for how Bilbo “vanished.” He was worried that they’d be talking about it for years to come. Gandalf also noticed that Bilbo had hardly aged, which was certainly a known effect of the Rings of Power.

At this point, Gandalf is nearly certain that Bilbo’s ring is one of those Rings. “That was the first real warning I had that all was not well.”

Bilbo had agreed to leave the ring with Frodo, but put up quite a fight, acting exactly like Gollum. Gandalf picked up on this immediately and saw that it was likely his ring that was causing this behavior.

After Bilbo left and Frodo took possession of the Ring, Gandalf warned him not to use it. “But keep it secret, and keep it safe!”

This was when Gandalf knew “knew at last that something dark and deadly was at work.”

“The Shadow of the Past”

Three years after Bilbo’s departure, Gandalf visited Frodo “taking a good look at him.” Then, over the next few years, he checked back in asking about Frodo’s health. He was obviously paying close attention to how the Ring was or wasn’t changing Frodo.

Realizing he wasn’t getting anywhere with Saruman, who still held that the One Ring was lost at sea, Gandalf searched for information on his own. He went to Minas Tirith to read Isildur’s own writings about how he acquired the Ring and its effects on the bearer. He then interviewed Gollum, who had been captured by Aragorn. From Gollum he learned where Bilbo’s ring was found – in the River Anduin along the Gladden Fields – right where Isildur was killed.

This perfectly explained how the Ring could have gotten from Sauron to Isildur to Gollum to Bilbo and finally to Frodo.

With this knowledge, Gandalf hurried to the Shire where he made one final test. The Scroll of Isildur explained how to see the inscription on the Ring. When Gandalf set it in the fire, the writing could be read. It was only then that he knew for sure.

Camera: Argus/Cosina STL1000 (c1970)
Film: Fuji Super HG 1600 (x-2/2001); 800iso
Community of Christ Temple, Independence, Missouri

Why Gandalf Didn’t or Couldn’t Act

The morning after Gandalf arrived in the Shire, Frodo asked him how long he had known that Bilbo’s ring was the One Ring. Gandalf avoided the question and Frodo had to ask again. He tried once more to evade it, and then gave an incredibly long explanation of the history of his doubts before finally coming around to his answer.

Gandalf basically knew that the One Ring was in the Shire for seventeen year, and many ask why he did nothing.

To this there are two answers.

First, what could he do? Bilbo would not willingly give up the Ring to Gandalf. To get it, Gandalf would have to steal it – which is exactly how both Gollum and Bilbo acquired the Ring. Further, Gandalf would have to steal it from a dear friend, just like Gollum. This would be playing into the Ring and its will.

Second, if Gandalf had taken the Ring, as he told Frodo the night of the departure, he would become “like the Dark Lord himself.”

Yet the way of the Ring to my heart is by pity, pity for weakness and the desire of strength to do good. Do not tempt me! I dare not take it, not even to keep it safe, unused. The wish to wield it would be too great for my strength. I shall have such need of it. Great perils lie before me.

Leaving it with Frodo, in the safety of the Shire, was the best possible solution. Nobody even knew of the Shire in 3001 – not Sauron, not Saruman (probably). Regardless, there’s no reason at all that anyone would even consider a Hobbit to be the ringbearer.

In the end, as we see by the conclusion of the story, Gandalf made the right decision – knowingly leaving the One Ring with Frodo in the Shire was his action. Any other decision would likely have ended with either Sauron or Saruman holding the Ring and destroying the world.

What’s Next?

Playing off this little motif, we’ll take a look at what Sauron knew about the One Ring, Gollum, Baggins, the Shire and Gandalf. Coming up next week!

So What *Did* Gandalf Know About the Ring? [Part 1 of 2]

How is it possible that Gandalf failed to connect the dots pointing to Bilbo’s ring being the One Ring – Sauron’s Ring of Power? Everything seemed to be screaming out loud that it was the Ring, and yet Gandalf seemed to only “guess” at it while bumbling around Middle-earth, right?

Some have suggested this as a huge plot hole – if Gandalf was so incredibly wise, and the clues were so obvious, how could have had no idea? Today (and tomorrow) we’ll figure this all out.

A Quick history of the Rings of Power Before Gandalf (Silmarillion-era)

In the middle of the Second Age, roughly 4,800 years before the events of Lord of the Rings, the Rings of Power were forged. The Elves, under the guidance of a convincingly-friendly Sauron, first started by making many “lesser rings” as a way to work up to the greater rings. Once up to speed, and as the old poem goes, three rings were made for (and by) the Elves, nine were made for Men, seven were made for Dwarves, and one was made for (and by) Sauron alone – the One Ring to control them all.

The Elves refused to use their Rings, quickly figuring out that this was Sauron’s plan. The Dwarves used theirs to amass wealth, but due to the way the Dwarves were created, they could not be controlled. Men were the most easily ensnared, and their rings worked as intended upon them.

From The Silmarillion:

Those who used the Nine Rings became mighty in their day, kings, sorcerers, and warriors of old. They obtained glory and great wealth, yet it turned to their undoing. They had, as it seemed, unending life, yet life became unendurable to them. They could walk, if they would, unseen by all eyes in this world beneath the sun, and they could see things in worlds invisible to mortal men; but too often they beheld only the phantoms and delusions of Sauron.

And one by one, sooner or later, according to their native strength and to the good or evil of their wills in the beginning, they fell under the thraldom of the ring that they bore and under the domination of the One, which was Sauron’s. And they became for ever invisible save to him that wore the Ruling Ring, and they entered into the realm of shadows. The Nazgûl were they, the Ringwraiths, the Enemy’s most terrible servants; darkness went with them, and they cried with the voices of death.

For the next century there was war, with Sauron losing in the end – though he retained the One Ring. Peace came over most of Middle-earth, lasting nearly 1700 years (with some squabbles therein, to be sure).

This peace was broken when Sauron attacked Gondor in 3429 of the Second Age. This saw the Last Alliance of Men and Elves rise up against the Enemy. Finally, they defeated Sauron after a dozen years of conflict.

The war culminated with Isildur cutting the One Ring from Sauron’s finger. Sauron’s power, invested almost fully in the Ring, was diminished to nearly nothing. The Nazgûl dispersed into the shadows, and the Second Age came to an end.

Gandalf and the Rings Before Bilbo (Late-Silmarillion-era)

Gandalf arrived in Middle-earth with Saruman and Radagast. They were known as the Istari, the Wizards, and they were sent “to contest the growth of the Shadow, and to move Elves and Men to beware of their peril.”

The Istari arrived in Middle-earth around the year 1000 of the Third Age. It must be assumed that upon their arrival everything stated above was more or less known to them.

At this time, a shadow had begun to creep over Mirkwood. There was a strong evil power in the southern end of that forest. The Wise believed it to be one of the Nazgûl.

The location of only three of the Rings – the Three Rings of the Elves – was definitely known. Two were held by the Elves and one was held by Gandalf. Four of the Dwarves’ Seven Rings were said to have been swallowed and/or destroyed by dragons. The Nine for Men were basically unknown. Sauron would eventually hold all Nine again, but it’s not known when this happened.

It was also known that all of the Rings of Power had jewels with but two exceptions: the One Ring and one of the lesser rings made before. This was most definitely known because the Elves made all of the Rings of Power, except for the One Ring.

In 2850 of the Third Age, less than a century before Bilbo acquired the Ring, Gandalf entered Dol Guldur in southern Mirkwood to investigate the evil presence growing through the forest. There, he learned that Sauron was gaining power and that he was “gathering all the Rings and seeking for news of the One.”

The next year, Gandalf urged the White Council to attack Dol Guldur, but Saruman overruled him. Gandalf did not realize that Saruman wanted the One Ring for himself. In truth, Gandalf isn’t all that concerned about the Rings. That was more Saruman’s territory. Gandalf just wanted to rid Middle-earth of Sauron, Rings or no Rings.

Camera: Argus/Cosina STL1000 (c1970)
Film: Fuji Super X-tra 400 (x-12/2014)
Community of Christ Temple, Independence, Missouri

Gandalf and Bilbo and the One Ring (The Hobbit-era)

This was basically the situation when Bilbo acquired the Ring from Gollum in 2941. After leaving Gollum’s lair and arriving back with Gandalf and the Dwarves, Bilbo told them about the riddle game and Gollum, but purposely failed to mention the bit about the Ring. He suspected that Gandalf “guessed at the part of his tale that he had left out.”

Gandalf told Frodo in “The Shadow of the Past” chapter of Lord of the Rings that when Bilbo told the story of how he “won” the Ring, he didn’t believe him (and probably figured he stole it). Gandalf deduced that Bilbo made up the story “to put his claim to the ring beyond doubt.”

We then learn that this was “the first real warning” that Gandalf had “that all was not well.” We’re told later, in the same chapter that a shadow fell on Gandalf’s heart when he learned Bilbo found a ring, though he didn’t understand why.

So let’s break away here for a second and look at the broader picture. Gandalf knew that Bilbo has a magic ring of some sort. Since rings and ring lore aren’t his specialty, he didn’t quite know what to make of it. He certainly knew of the many lesser rings, as well as the Rings of Power – many of which weren’t exactly accounted for. He also knew of the One Ring, which was, to his knowledge, also unaccounted for (that would soon change – sort of).

At this point – 77 years before Frodo left the Shire, the only thing that Gandalf knew for sure was that Bilbo’s new ring, which he probably stole, made him sort of dickish and also invisible. With lots of magical rings in the world, there’s basically no reason at all for Gandalf to suspect that this was the One Ring.

(To be continued in our next post… )

‘Your Legs Are Too Short, So Use Your Head’ – Sam Gamgee (to Himself)

It’s not often that I look to fiction for advice. If I’m honest, I tend not to look anywhere. It’s not a good habit, but it is what it is. Tolkien’s words have often been used for inspiration, and I suppose there’s really nothing wrong with that.

“All that is gold does not glitter” is probably the most used, with “Not all those who wander are lost” being a close second. There’s “Short cuts make for long delays,” and “All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”

But for me, being 5’4″, there’s hardly a quote more handy than that said by Sam to himself as he chased after Aragorn when looking for Frodo after he disappeared near Amon Hen:

‘Whoa, Sam Gamgee!’ he said aloud. ‘Your legs are too short, so use your head!’

Brilliant, no?

Just prior to this, Boromir told the Fellowship the very briefest and friendliest (to him) outlines of the conversation he had with Frodo not too many moments before. After Boromir told them that Frodo put on the Ring, Aragorn asked him if that was all he had to say. It was.

Sam was immediately suspicious, but, like the rest of them, was freaking out. The Fellowship divided into pairs to search for Frodo, with Aragorn telling Sam to come with him. He was going to the top of Amen Hen.

Poor Sam simply couldn’t keep up, his mind racing much faster than his feet. He stopped, spoke those wonderful words and then sussed out the situation.

Boromir wasn’t lying, he concluded, “that’s not his way; but he hasn’t told us everything.” He knew Frodo better than any of them, and knew that he must have been forced into making up his mind to go East, to Mordor. “Not without Sam? Yes, with even his Sam. That’s hard, cruel hard.

Sam, of course, was right. Frodo had made up his mind: “I must go now or I shall never go.” He even telling himself that Sam would understand.

And Sam did understand. He understood exactly what this meant. Frodo had been pushed by Boromir and could take no more. The decisions Frodo made in that moment were reckless, cruel and hard.

Once he slowed down to consider the situation, it wasn’t long before he figured that Frodo, without supplies, would have to head back to the boats. So rather than stumbling his way with Aragorn to the summit of Amen Hen, he circled back to the landing, where he saw a boat which seemed to slip into the water all on its own.

Our Sam, running towards the river, had little time to think and fell into the water, nearly drowning himself. But if he had stopped this time and used his head, Frodo would have gotten away. And so he led with his heart and found his dear friend.

The scene that then transpired between the two is one of my favorites. Frodo knew (best he could) what the trip to Mordor would mean for Sam – in all likelihood, death. And Sam knew that without him along to see after Frodo, his friend would certainly die. While Frodo’s fear seems more understandable, Sam’s is closer to the mark.

In the end, Frodo was happy to have Sam with him. But I’m glad, Sam. I cannot tell you how glad. Come along! It is plain that we were meant to go together.”

This line always gets me. It seems to echo Elrond’s own at the council: “‘If I understand aright all that I have heard,’ he said, ‘I think that this task is appointed for you, Frodo; and that if you do not find a way, no one will.'”

And I’ve always considered that line to be a sort of ripple of Yavanna saying to Manwë, “Yet it was in the Song.”.

Not that Elrond had heard the Music of the Ainur, or that Frodo even knew what that was, but that there was something greater at play going on – some larger story. Later in Lord of the Rings, Sam will reference this: “Why, to think of it, we’re in the same tale still! It’s going on. Don’t the great tales never end?”

So take Sam’s advice – your legs are too short, there’s no real way that you can keep up with the insanity of what’s going on around you. Pause and take a moment to collect your thoughts. Use your head. Everything will be clearer then. You are small part of a larger story, and though it’s small, it’s significant. And though your legs are too short, that’s okay, the role you are playing is essential.

Camera: Holga 120N  Film: Kodak Ekachrome 64, xpro as C-41, expired in 1989.

Camera: Holga 120N
Film: Kodak Ekachrome 64, xpro as C-41, expired in 1989.

A Few Notes

  • This was a really fun post to write before diving into the Silmarillion!
  • I think I’m taking Monday off, and will start the Silm posts on Wednesday. Of course, we’ll not start with the actual start of the book, but a bit of an introduction. See you then!

About the Photo
Little arms – little legs, what’s the difference as long as we’re together, right? Right! This was taken with my first film camera after getting back into film – The Holga. I’ve not used this in years, having moved on to exclusively vintage cameras, but I still really like a few of the photos I took with it. This was at Dinosaur Park in Rapid City, South Dakota. Wonderful place that maybe we’ll hit again someday.


  • Miles today: 0
  • Miles thus far: 1309 (389 miles since leaving Lothlórien)
  • 470 miles to Mt. Doom

Book II, Chapter 8, Farewell to Lórien. Drifting down the Anduin, February 26, 3019 TA. (map)

‘Drawing Him Into the Shadow’ – Tolkien Figures Out Ring-O-Vision at Amon Hen

By the time Frodo made his climb up Amon Hen, he had worn the One Ring on three occasions. First was at Tom Bombadil’s House, second was accidentally in Bree, and lastly during the attack on Weathertop. But the fifth, when he places it on his finger to escape Boromir, was something of a milestone for Tolkien. Previous to writing this explanation, Tolkin had only touched what it was like to wear the Ring once before – and then almost in passing. Let’s take a closer look at this to see what we find.

In the Hobbit, Bilbo wore the Ring for hours at a time and nothing was really mentioned of its effects. It’s even stated that he continued to wear it on and off after returning home from the journey. There was no mention of Sauron or much of what it was like for the wearer. At this point in his writing, Tolkien hadn’t considered the Ring to be anything more than a magical ring. But as he developed Lord of the Rings, something much bigger took shape, changing Bilbo’s ring into the One Ring, and creating a few odd inconsistencies between this new book and his previous.

When looking at his early drafts for Lord of the Rings, we see that Tolkien apparently didn’t even think about the Ring’s effects upon the wearer, apart from becoming invisible. Such was the case when Frodo wore it at Tom Bombadil’s house. Then, at Bree, it happened by accident, but the whole narrative is seen from outside of Frodo’s point of view. If Tolkien was considering the Ring’s effects, it was not shown.

It wasn’t until the attack at Weathertop that Tolkien delved into what it was like for the wearer of the Ring. Here, “everything remained as before,” except for the Black Riders, who were shown to Frodo as “terribly clear.” He was able to see through their cloaks to their white faces, black mantles, long grey hair and long grey robes. It’s possibly indicated that the Ring also helped the Riders see Frodo, though that’s not specifically said.

In some additions to the chapter Tolkien made soon after, the concept that the Ring was a bridge between two worlds was cemented. And though that didn’t actually explain much, it was all that Tolkien knew, having no real idea that he would have to develop it further.

Getting to Amon Hen
As we know, the Fellowship left Lórien, floated down the Anduin, fought off some Orcs, portaged around a waterfall and then came to Parth Galen and Amon Hen, the hill nearby. Frodo walked up the side of the hill and Boromir followed. Eventually, Boromir tried to take the Ring, and Frodo slipped it on his own finger, disappearing from Boromir’s sight.

Tolkien first wrote about the conversation between Boromir and Frodo in a series of notes taken after writing the Moria chapters. In those, Frodo wore the Ring, but the effects were nothing all that special. “What does he see then,” Tolkien jotted to himself, “cloud all round him getting nearer and many fell voices in air?”

In the writings that followed through the Lothlórien chapters, Tolkien considered how the Ring worked its Evil, especially over Boromir. This working, no doubt, effected his idea for what wearing the Ring must be like. When he finally came again to this scene, things were found to have progressed a bit. When describing what Frodo saw, still taking notes, he wrote: “Sees Minas Tirith and Minas Morgul opposed. Sees Mordor. Sees Gandalf. Suddenly feels the Eye and wrenches off the ring and finds himself crying Wait, wait!”

The Eye, first written about in the original draft of the Galadriel’s Mirror scene, had just made its second appearance. Though these notes were hastily scribbled onto the back of one of the pages of the Great River chapter, Tolkien was clearly anticipating what was to come.

But there were still more notes, these penned in more of a narrative form:

“Standing on rocks he saw nothing about him but a grey formless mist, and far away (yet black and clear and hard) the Mountains of Mordor: the fire seemed very red. Fell voices in air. Feels Eye searching, and though it does not find him, he feels its attention is suddenly arrested (by himself).”

Fairly confident of what he was going to do with this, Tolkien wrote the first draft of the Breaking of the Fellowship chapter. But when it came to what Frodo actually saw, Tolkien poked his way down several different paths. “His writing here is at its most difficult,” wrote his son of these passages, “the marks very weak and the pen seeming to float or glide on the paper.”

For a time, Tolkien seemed to consider that Amon Hen, and not the Ring, was giving Frodo these visions. In the first rendering, Frodo saw the Anduin, the Misty Mountains, the uncharted lands in the east. To the west, he “saw little horsemen galloping like the wind upon wide green plains,” as well as Isengard. To the South, he saw the Anduin flowing into the Sea.

But then all he saw turned to war. Orcs poured out of the Misty Mountains, there was “deadly strife” in Mirkwood, “the land of the Beornings was aflame.” Clouds were over the gates of Moria, and there was smoke on the borders of Lórien. Wolves came forth from Isengard, and from the South and East, countless columns of Men were approaching. “All the power of the Dark Lord was in motion.” And then he saw the Eye, which leapt toward him, feeling for him. As in the published version, a voice told him to take it off, and “two powers strove in him.”

This was just the draft, and the scribbles became almost indecipherable. When he wrote out a manuscript, Tolkien added little, but changed much of the wording, and the power of Amon Hen was still responsible for the visions. The setting was basically the same, it just sounded better. As before, he described what Frodo could see from atop Amon Hen, but when the vision changed, so did his rendering.

“…nothing but water was below him, a wide rippling plain of silver, and an endless murmur of distant waves upon a shore he could not see.”

Tolkien soon struck this out, including anything having to do with the power of Amon Hen. As he continued to write, the water below Frodo was no longer a part of the story. It was now “a world of mist in which there were only shadows” that Frodo sees. He then wrote: “But also he sat now upon the seat of Sight which the Men of Númenor had made,” but quickly struck that out as well.

Strange at it seems, the Ring in these drafts clouded Frodo’s sight, making everything misty and cloudy. It’s only when he sat upon the “seat of Sight” that he could see the visions. This was a new addition, differing greatly from the notes. That Tolkien quickly nixed the idea is telling. Had he kept it, the Ring’s power would not have been as great (in this respect, anyway).

Though Frodo’s leaving has several variations in the drafts, the basic outline was the same: Frodo came down off the mountain and decided to split, putting on the Ring again to make a stealthy exit. In one of the drafts, however, there’s an interesting aside, after Frodo put the Ring on once more:

“The power of the Ring upon him had been renewed; and maybe it aided his choice, drawing him to Mordor, drawing him to the Shadow, alone.”

Camera: Polaroid Land 250  Film: Fuji FP-100C (negative scan)

Camera: Polaroid Land 250
Film: Fuji FP-100C (negative scan)

A Few Notes

  • When I talk about “Frodo” in the early drafts, I mean the character that became Frodo. This fellow went through a series of name changes, and it’s just easier in these cases to simply.
  • It’s possible, even probable, that Frodo wore the Ring between Bilbo’s birthday party and when he left the Shire, but we’re not given any specifics, so I didn’t include them.
  • In the first draft of the Amon Hen chapter, Sam followed Frodo immediately, wanting to protect him from Orcs. Sam, from the start, was just one awesome friend.
  • I’m going to wrap up Fellowship with one more post, and then take a little Silmarillion break.

About the Photo
This is the tower at Sea-Tac Airport. It’s a Polaroid negative, so the colors are weird and things are a bit fuzzy. There’s also some reaching coming in from the West, so, you know, Mordor.


  • Miles today: 9
  • Miles thus far: 1309 (389 miles since leaving Lothlórien)
  • 470 miles to Mt. Doom

Book II, Chapter 8, Farewell to Lórien. Drifting down the Anduin, February 26, 3019 TA. (map)

‘Evil Enters into His Heart’ – Tolkien Constructs Boromir’s Betrayal

Tolkien first wrote about Boromir when he penned the original draft of the Counsel of Elrond. From the start, this member of the Fellowship asked a bit too much about the Ring. But that shouldn’t lead us to suspect that Tolkien had his last for the Ring and ultimate betrayal in mind from the start.
The original draft of the conversation about the Ring, in this regard, was basically the same outline as it was when finally published. In trying to trace just when Tolkien came up with the idea that Boromir was to betray Frodo and the Fellowship, no clue can be found here in this draft.

These were simply useful questions about the Ring. Even in the published version, there’s little to make the reader suspect Boromir’s fate. In the published tale, Boromir suggested that the Ring be used by the Men of Gondor, and when told that it couldn’t be used like that, he basically dropped it. This was the basic story from the very first draft. So just how did Tolkien arrive at Boromir’s slide into lust for the Ring, and when did his treachery become set in stone?

In August of 1939, Tolkien finished the first draft of the Council of Elrond chapter. Almost immediately, he began making notes for what might come next. During this period of writing, Tolkien was still trying to figure out the geography as well as history of Boromir’s people. The land he was from, which we now know as Gondor, was then named Ond by Tolkien. They had to pass through the Land of Ond to get to the Fiery Mountain to destroy the Ring.

Originally, Tolkien wrote that Boromir’s land was “besieged by wild men out of the East,” and sent to Balin in Moria for help (an idea with so much alternate universe fun that I can’t get enough of it). As he drafted, this idea changed until, at the end of the first draft, Boromir had come to Rivendell with “tidings,” but we’re never told what they were. Through this, the people of Ond (and then of Gondor) were still and ever faithful.

Though Boromir was originally selected to be part of the Fellowship, Tolkien played with the idea during the notes, rearranging the band with and without certain members, Boromir included and excluded. For a long time, Tolkien settled upon an outline, deciding that “Frodo must get separated from the rest.” It’s curious to note that he insisted that “if this plot is used it will be better to have no Boromir in party.” He suggested swapping in Gimli, son of Gloin, “who was killed in Moria.”

Obviously, Tolkien had much to rearrange and consider. But still he kept going on, writing the drafts through the Moria chapter, and including Boromir in the telling. When finished, he took the opportunity to heavily revise the book up to this point. As yet, there was not even the slightest indication that Boromir would lust after the Ring. His questions at the Council seemed just a way for Tolkien to work out a bit of how the Ring worked.

When Tolkien finally returned to the Council of Elrond drafts, rewriting much as he went, he further used the Boromir/Ring conversation to work out still more details about the Elvish Rings. In fact, it wasn’t until the notes he took after finished the Moria chapter when he devised Boromir’s fate:

Boromir takes Frodo apart and talks to him. Begs to see Ring again. Evil enters into his heart and he tries to daunt Frodo and then to take it by force. Frodo is obliged to slip it on to escape him.”

Tolkien then went on to to pen a basic outline for Frodo through the end of the book. This was even before he had come up with the idea of Lothlórien and Galadriel. Neither had existed until after these notes were made. While we, like Sam to Faramir, might be able to “blame” Galadriel for changing something in Boromir to make him lust after the Ring as he did, Tolkien had no such device at this point in the writing. Evil simply entered Boromir’s heart.

But then came Galadriel and Lothlórien, and it all fell into place. Much of the Lothlórien chapters were true from the beginning concerning Boromir, and as in the published version, Boromir’s treacherous thoughts are only vaguely hinted upon.

It’s not until he wrote a note on “The Scattering of the Company,” that Tolkien had Boromir creeping up the side of the hill to get to Frodo. Even the bits of dialog inserted to flesh out the notes, match evenly enough with the published story. Even in the first iterations, Boromir immediately felt regret and tried to make amends with Frodo. When it came time to actually write the drafts of the “Breaking of the Fellowship” chapter, all Tolkien had to do was lift it from the notes word for word, which he did.

And so it seems as if Tolkien came up with the idea of Boromir’s betrayal almost as we readers can assume by following the hints and clues dropped along the way – the same hints and clues Tolkien left for himself and eventually followed.

Tolkien first wrote of Boromir’s questions at the Council of Elrond in order to explain the Rings. But looking back upon that and adding the idea of Frodo being split from the Fellowship, he built a clever story of lust and treachery out of the most boring of devices – exposition. His frequent stops along the way to rework previously written ideas and develop the future of the story led him to the conclusion as we know it today in the published version.

Camera: Argus C3 Film: Fuji Acros 100 35mm

Camera: Argus C3
Film: Fuji Acros 100 35mm

A Note

  • It’s through an extended conversation with Boromir at the Counsel of Elrond that Tolkien worked out the Elvish as well as Dwarvish Rings.

About the Photo
Well, finally I get to use a waterfall picture! This is what’s known as a tri-chrome photograph. It’s actually each made from three black & white photos. Basically, you take three photographs of the exact same thing, each one with either a red, green or blue filter. Then, after you develop them, you place that same color filter over the image. Traditionally, you’d then project all three onto the same surface and it “magically” makes a color image. In this case, I did the work digitally (though the actual photos were taken with on black & white film using red/green/blue filters).


  • Miles today: 10
  • Miles thus far: 1274 (380 miles since leaving Lothlórien)
  • 9 miles to the Falls of Rauros
  • 479 miles to Mt. Doom

Book II, Chapter 8, Farewell to Lórien. Drifting down the Anduin, February 25, 3019 TA. (map)

The One Ring Amps Up Boromir’s Sass

As the Fellowship drifted farther south on the Anduin towards the rapids at Sarn Gebir, Boromir turned cranky. Maybe the sounds of the crashing water kept him up late the night before, or maybe it was something to do with the lust for the Ring. Whichever, he was not even a little amused when Aragorn suggested that they continue down the river, going over the rapids, all the way to Emyn Muil.

Boromir bitched and moaned about this. “If the Emyn Muil lie before us, then we can abandon these cockle-boats, and strike westward and southward, until we come to the Entwash and cross into my own land.”

First, I realize that “cockle-boats” is just another term for “small boats.” It’s a specific classification of water crafts. But really, isn’t this so much better if “cockle” reads more like some Third Age expletive? Yes. Yes it does.

And almost as important, you’ve no doubt noticed Boromir’s incredibly clever mention of just going to Minas Tirith because obviously that’s where they’re all going anyway, because why the hell wouldn’t you want to go to Minas Tirith, right?

Aragorn thought it was a fine idea to head that way, if Minas Tirith was their destination. Which it wasn’t. Besides, they couldn’t exactly get lost on the River. There was the question of the falls, though. And this is where Boromir laid thick the sass.

…what will you do then? Leap down the Falls and land in the marshes?”

Seriously, this guy is hilarious in Gondor. Leap down the Falls and land in the marshes! Get it? Because the marshes are squishy! Boromir’s rapier-wit was second to none.

But when it was clear that Frodo was going to follow Aragorn, Boromir relented, but not without more sass. They would need his strength, he told them, and “it is not the way of the Men of Minas Tirith to desert their friends at need.” He’d go to Amon Hen, the tall rock on the west bank of the falls, but no farther. “There I shall turn to my home, alone if my help has not earned the reward of any companionship.”

He was really becoming a wet blanket about all of this.

None of this seemed to phase Aragorn at all. He and Legolas left Boromir and Gimli with the hobbits on the River while they searched for a path along he western shore. Aragorn actually told them that if he didn’t return, they’d have to pick a new leader. Fortunately, both returned, and though it doesn’t say it, Boromir probably grumbled a little.

He certainly did when he was told that they’d have to portage. “That would not be easy, even if we were all Men.”

Tolkien devoted exactly one sentence to this most difficult task. Maybe it was his way of getting Boromir to shut his stupid face hole.

In Boromir’s defense, he was a pretty big help in carrying the boats, aided only by Aragorn. Together, they carried all three. His redemption was short-lived as he cracked wise at the expense of a sleeping Gimli.

Several of my previous posts support Boromir more than most readers think right. And that’s okay. In a lot of ways, I like this Boromir fellow. He really is an honorable and good man. Sure, he gets cranky, but who doesn’t? I’d be a complete mess in his shoes.

His undoing was his patriotism and lust for the Ring (which played upon that patriotism). The longer he was exposed to the Ring, the more he wanted it to aid in the defense of Gondor.

Tolkien couldn’t resist one last dig at Boromir before closing the chapter. As they were floating past the Argonath, he wrote that “even Boromir bowed his head.”

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

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

A Few Notes

  • Because I’m feeling a little “meh” on this post, I thought I’d give you a bit of behind-the-scenes info about what some other folks were doing at this time. Gollum, for one, was still making his way to Emyn Muil, avoiding the Orcs. And speaking of the Orcs, Grishnákh and Uglúk were in the western part of Emyn Muil searching for the Fellowship. Gandalf was on Gwaihir flying to Fangorn. And the First Battle of the Fords of Isen was underway. It’s there that Théoden’s son, Théodred was killed – so ordered by Saruman. This is detailed in Unfinished Tales‘ “The Battles of the Fords of Isen”.
  • For some reason, I’m really apprehensive about writing the last few posts for Fellowship. Mostly, I just want to rip into the Silmarillion, but even before I decided to do that, I just didn’t feel I had a very good grasp on “The Breaking of the Fellowship” chapter.

About the Photo
So why the desert pic? Well, when we were driving through Utah, I looked to my right and saw what I first thought were white statues. After driving past them, I turned around and made the stop. Somewhere during that, my mind convinced itself that they looked a bit like the Argonath. When I snapped more than a few photos of the, I was certain. Now looking at it, I can still sort of see it, but mostly, not. Another version is here. And here.


  • Miles today: 10
  • Miles thus far: 1264 (370 miles since leaving Lothlórien)
  • 19 miles to the Falls of Rauros
  • 489 miles to Mt. Doom

Book II, Chapter 8, Farewell to Lórien. Drifting down the Anduin, February 24-25, 3019 TA. (map)

Sam’s Confusion and the Blending of Time in Lothlórien

From the very first time I read the Lord of the Rings, the scene with Sam and Aragorn after the Orc attack on the Anduin always felt odd to me. This is my attempt to sort it all out.

Shortly after Legolas shot the Nazgûl out of the sky, the scene shifted to Sam tapping the hilt of his sword as if he were counting. Noticing the Moon, Sam remarked that it seemed as if they had spent no time at all in Lothlórien. Remembering when they were on the flit just after leaving Moria, he remarked that the Moon was “a week from the full,” meaning that it had been waning for about a week.

That’s true enough. On January 15th, the Moon was 82% illuminated and waning. It was now February 23rd, and Sam saw that the Moon was “as thin as a nail-paring” and nearly New. Given that the Fellowship had left Lothlórien eight nights before, Sam reasoned that it was “as if we had never stayed no time in the Elvish country.” This would have made it, in Sam’s mind, seem like January 23rd, when the moon would have been a thin crescent. For this to be true, the Fellowship would really have had to have spent no time at all in Lórien.

Of course, Sam knew well enough that they had been among the Elves for “three nights for certain” and maybe “several more” – perhaps a week. In Sam’s mind, then, the Moon should have been around the First Quarter. This made no sense at all! He swore up and down that there was no way they could have spent an entire month there, and so was about to conclude that time on the outside somehow stopped. That, “time did not count in there.”

Frodo agreed, though obviously hadn’t given it much thought. He couldn’t remember seeing the moon at all while they were there: “only stars by night and sun by day” as if every night was the New Moon.

With that, Legolas chimed in, proving the adage – “Ask not the elves for advice, because they will tell you both ‘yes’ and ‘no’.” Though he corrected them by saying that “time does not tarry ever,” he also said that “change and growth” is different in different places. For Elves, the world moved “both very swift and very slow.” Since they were immortal, everything mortal around them seemed to be continuously dying, especially Men, making the changes of the world seem swift. But since they essentially lived forever, things also seemed to drag on and on.

Though this gives us a wonderful peek into what it’s like to be an Elf, it helped Sam not at all. Aside from that, it’s a bit confusing. The Elves, originally, were supposed to live in Middle-earth. That the passing of time messes with them so much, making it seem both swift and slow, doesn’t make a lot of sense. For the Elves who had been to Valinor, fine, that’s understandable. But for the many who remained behind, Legolas included, why would time effect them in such a way? If anything, it should be Men who were effected, since, for them, Middle-earth wasn’t meant to be their home (which was why they were mortal).

But none of that is the point of this passage. The point is that time in Lórien was different. Frodo understood that it was because of Galadriel’s power and not because whatever the hell Legolas was going on about. “Rich are the hours, though short they seem, in Caras Galadhon, where Galadriel wields the Elven-ring.”

After a bit of chastisement from Aragorn for mentioning the “R”-word, Sam is corrected. They were simply caught up in Lothlórien where “time flowed swiftly by us, as for the Elves.” In saying this, Aragorn lamented that “Time flows on to a spring of little hope.”

Sam had missed the entire month of February. They had entered Lórien on January 16th, and departed exactly a month later. After a week on the water, it was the 23rd of February, not the 23rd of January.

Apart from the look into the life of an Elf, this whole passage turned out to not matter at all. It added a bit to Lothlórien’s mystique, but as readers we were already pretty convinced of that. So where did this come from, and why?

In the first draft of this chapter, Sam actually explained more clearly what he’s trying to say, and Legolas’ unhelpful bit was missing. But the biggest difference was Aragorn’s answer: Whether we were in the past or the future or in a time that does not pass, I cannot say….” It’s not fully confirmed that time in the outside world didn’t pass at all, but it’s heavily implied that that was the case in Tolkien’s first draft. The second draft makes it even clearer when Aragorn says, “In that land, maybe, we were in some time that elsewhere has long gone by.”

If the concept of time stopping in Lothlórien would have been something he pursued, that would hardly have been something that could have been explained away simply by the Elvish Ring. After all, both Elrond and Gandalf had one too, and Elrond’s was supposedly more powerful. It would than have fallen on Galadriel herself to produce this power. Why he ultimately decided to make it clear that time had passed as normal was never said.

Tolkien wasn’t at all sure what he wanted to do with this, and so made a few different schemes of how it might work. This is where Legolas’ bit came in, and also where Frodo’s mention of the Elvish Ring becomes more bold. In one, Frodo believes that time exists in Lothlórien, but at a different speed. Most of the lines given to Frodo, Aragorn, and Legolas were swapped and reswapped before settling down to the published version.

Additionally, there is a short passage spoken, which was cut entirely, but sheds even more potential light on the matter:

“‘But Lothlórien is not as other realms of Elves and Men,’ said Frodo. ‘Rich are the hours, and slow the wearing of the world in Caras Galadon. Wherefore all things there are both unstained and young, and yet aged beyond our count of time. Blended is the might of Youth and Eld in the land of Lórien, where Galadriel wields the Elven Ring.'”

In the end, it’s just not satisfactorily explained. Did time seem to pass more slowly because of the Elvish Ring, as Frodo suggests? Or did it pass slowly because that’s how time is to Elves? Legolas, who hadn’t spent much time at all around Rings of Power didn’t seemed freaked out by they way time passed, so that it was the Elvish Ring seems unlikely. Was it Galadriel? The land? Was it the Elves? Did they think they had Mono for an entire month, but it just turned out that they were really bored? We may never know.

Camera: Argus C3 Film: Svema 64

Camera: Argus C3
Film: Svema 64

A Few Notes

  • The moon phases and percentages come from Michael W. Perry’s Untangling Tolkien, which goes through LotR day-by-day with such calculations and chronology. This guy was sued by the Tolkien estate (and ultimately settled/won) for writing this book. You can learn more about it here.
  • Curiously, many of Frodo’s lines after Legolas’ explanation were originally Aragorn’s (well, Trotter’s, but you know who I mean).
  • This particular New Moon doesn’t just cause Sam some problems, it actually seems out of place chronologically. Here’s an incredibly detailed page about it.

About the Photo
Making it seem that time has stopped is sort of what I try to do with my photography. The photo was taking this past summer in Helper, Utah, though it could easily have been shot in 1946 (when Anna and the King of Siam was released). Oddly, the camera that I used to take the shot predates the movie by seven years.


  • Miles today: 20
  • Miles thus far: 1254 (360 miles since leaving Lothlórien)
  • 49 miles to the Falls of Rauros
  • 519 miles to Mt. Doom

Book II, Chapter 8, Farewell to Lórien. Drifting down the Anduin, February 23, 3019 TA. (map)

‘Fierce Voices Rose Up’ – Tracking Orcs and Wraiths Across the Months

We last left the Fellowship as they were dealing with Gollum while floating down the Anduin south from Lothórien. After another 130 or so miles of basically nothing, we join them again.

The passage we’re looking at today is a fine example of how Tolkien did his background work. Aragorn miscalculated the distance to the rapids at Sarn Gebir, and they were upon the white water before they knew it. To make matters worse, a band of Orcs was lying in wait for them on the eastern shore.

‘Yrch!’ said Legolas, falling into his own tongue.

They dodged the Orcs, and landed on the other bank. Legolas fired a few arrows across the water, killing a few of the enemy. But then they saw a Nazgul in the air riding one of their “fell beasts.”

Sam blamed Gollum for setting this all up, and it’s here is where we can get a glimpse of Tolkien’s inner workings.

As he wrote the Lord of the Rings, Tolkien kept detailed notes concerning the dates of positions of everyone involved. If he would have spilled it all out chronologically, the narrative wouldn’t have worked. But if he hadn’t paid attention to the chronology, it would have been an utter mess.

Let’s start with Gollum, blamed by Sam for bringing the Orcs to them. The Fellowship last saw him on the night of February 19th. It was now very late on the 23rd. Sam believed that Gollum had left the Anduin and found a band of Orcs, which he led to the Fellowship. He seemed to assume that it was purposely done.

This is fairly understandable. While we know that Gollum had no love for Orcs, the only thing that Sam really knew about it was that Orcs broke Gollum out of Thranduil’s holdings in Mirkwood. That was the whole reason Legolas came to the meeting at Rivendell.

In truth, Gollum never left the Fellowship. He just got better at hiding. The rapids of Sarn Gebir made it impossible for him to follow, and the Orcs terrified him, so he headed east toward Emyn Muil.

So if it wasn’t Gollum, how did the Orcs set the ambush for the Fellowship? Tolkien explains this in notes, and goes into parts of the future narrative that we’ve not yet covered. Essentially, there were two different bands of Orcs – one from Mordor, and the other from Isengard.

Saruman dispatched scouts from Isengard under Uglúk, who watched Lothlórien while the Fellowship was there. At the same time, Grishnákh and his band of Orcs left Mordor. After a bit of back and forth, they met up on the west side of the Anduin on January 26th (when the Fellowship was still in Lothlórien). Grishnákh then summoned a Nazgûl and set up camp at Sarn Gebir. By February 10th, Orcs were on both sides of the river at the rapids. But then, the Rohirrim attacked Uglúk’s band on the west bank, driving them south to Emyn Muil.

For twelve more days, Grishnákh’s company remained on the east bank when their scouts saw the Fellowship. They again summon a Nazgûl (probably the same one as before), but Sauron forbade it from crossing to the west bank. Since Grishnákh’s Orcs were on the east bank, it’s not really clear how Sauron’s stipulation for the Nazgûl came into play.

Nevertheless, on the 23rd, this date, the Orcs attacked but without success. After Legolas shot down the Nazgûl and the Fellowship passed by, Grishnákh crossed to the west bank and went south after them. He’d meet up with Uglúk’s Orcs two days later on the west bank at Emyn Muil.

In all of this, I’ve sort of glossed over the fact that there was a Nazgûl involved. The last time we saw one of those, there were nine of them and they were swallowed by the River Bruinen. We’re told that they didn’t die, and here’s finally proof.

The crossing of the Bruinen happened on October 20th. So, for the past four months, the Nazgûl had been missing. To a lesser degree, Tolkien worked this out as well.

Somehow or another, the Nazgûl made it back to Mordor. One horse was still alive, and most likely the Witch-king rode it back, arriving sometime in late November. How the other eight Wraiths got back home is never stated, but in these same notes, Tolkien wrote that they made it back by the end of December.

Once the Nazgûl were back in Mordor, Sauron somehow procured the “winged mounts,” the fell beasts, “And yet withheld them, until things became almost desperate and he was forced to launch his war in haste.”

Just what this meant isn’t exactly explained, but by January 26th, at least one of the Nazgûl met with Grishnákh, but then seemed to disappear for almost a month, until the night of February 22nd, when they attacked. The dismounted Nazgûl would again disappear for a few days, cropping up again after the Fellowship was broken.

The Orcs, as written by Tolkien, were there when he needed them and not when he didn’t. The Nazgûl worked the same way. But they didn’t just show up out of nowhere. All of these timelines had to be invented and considered by Tolkien as he wrote even the most basic of ambush scenes.

But then, this really wasn’t a basic ambush scene, was it? Not with the Nazgûl flying around, anyway. After the Fellowship found a place to camp, they quickly discussed what Legolas had shot down. Gimli said that its shadow reminded him of the Balrog. Frodo, however, knew what it was, though he wouldn’t say – much to Boromir’s disdain.

Camera: Bolsey Jubilee Film: Orwo NP20

Camera: Bolsey Jubilee
Film: Orwo NP20

A Few Notes

  • Most of the dates come from notes called Scheme for Lord of the Rings, as well as an unpublished draft of Hunt for the Ring, which are sprinkled throughout Hammond & Scull’s Reader’s Companion. While it is incredibly wonderful to have them in print, it would be even more wonderful to have them in tact and complete at the end of the book (or separately) as well. Lots of digging to do otherwise.
  • Just before this action picks up, Aragorn spotted an eagle. He and Legolas figured that it was a “hunting eagle,” but just what that meant they didn’t know. Legolas: “I wonder what that forebodes. It is far from the mountains.” Nothing ever really came of it, but really, what was that about?
  • There was another possible Nazgûl sighting before the Fellowship entered Moria which I talked about here.
  • I’m really getting nervous for Two Towers. I’m just not sure how I’m going to be able to connect all of the story lines.

About the Photo
Stringing the bow and fitting an arrow he turned, peering back over the River into the darkness. Across the water there were shrill cries, but nothing could be seen. The photo was taken last summer in Zion National Park.


  • Miles today: 20
  • Miles thus far: 1234 (320 miles since leaving Lothlórien)
  • 69 miles to the Falls of Rauros
  • 539 miles to Mt. Doom

Book II, Chapter 8, Farewell to Lórien. Drifting down the Anduin, February 22, 3019 TA. (map)

Orcs: Beasts of Humanized Shape – Tolkien Contradicts the Silmarillion

A discussion about Orcs will almost always become a discussion about how they come into being – something for which Tolkien had several contradictory answers. It’s not surprising that in the two posts from earlier this week, I couldn’t help but look into their origin, their creation by Morgoth. From before 1920 through writing the Hobbit and even part of the Silmarillion in 1937, this was the origin Tolkien had settled upon.

When it came time to write the sequel to the Hobbit, he had already begun to consider a different scenario – that Morgoth had based his creation of Orcs upon the Elves, specifically to make a mockery of the Children of Ilúvatar. This was also carried through the Lord of the Rings.

Treebeard postulated that “Trolls are only counterfeits, made by the Enemy in the Great Darkness, in mockery of Ents, as Orcs were of Elves.” But the more he wrote about Orcs, the less they seemed like inhuman monsters created by Morgoth.

In Lord of the Rings, we see very human-like conversations between Orcs, even more so than in the Hobbit. For instance, after Frodo had been stung by Shelob, two Orc captains – the wonderfully-named Gorbag and Shagrat – discuss the supposed “large warrior” that is Sam, who had seemingly left Frodo behind. This, said one, was a “regular elvish trick,” which really makes it seem like an Orc is morally judging an Elf, and if he were correct with the fact, I’d say “and rightly so.”

Orcs, it seems, have their own morality, which, in this specific case regarding loyalty, is not too different from our own. In other, more unpleasant, ways, the Orcs seem to act more like humans than is comfortable. We could easily compare the hobbits’ treatment of the Old Forest with what the Orcs did to the forest around Orthanc.

In other places, we see Orcs marching, and sometimes catch a quick glimpse of their small talk and flashes of their behavior, none of which seems overtly inhuman. As much as we’d love to pretend that we are more like Elves than Orcs, we have to face the truth that we are much more Orc-like than Elvish.

Tolkien certainly could have written the Orcs as hordes of mindless soldiers without personality – he had been doing so for decades. But in Lord of the Rings he didn’t. He purposely chose to humanize them.

However, in doing so, he also created a dilemma. While we naturally side with the Good, the Elves and Men, we often end up feeling bad for the Orcs. We are not helped away from this line of thought when Elrond says things like: “For nothing is evil in the beginning. Even Sauron was not so.”

Even through all of this, Tolkien’s idea that Morgoth created the Orcs as they were, as mockeries of Elves, remained. But this would not stand for much longer.

Tolkien finished up the manuscript for Lord of the Rings in 1947, and it would take years to be finally published in 1954-55. As the final copy was being prepared, in 1954 Tolkien replied to a slew of questions from Naomi Mitchison, who had been reading page-proofs of the Fellowship and Two Towers. Concerning the Orcs, he had this to say:

“Orcs… are nowhere clearly stated to be of any particular origin. But since they are servants of the Dark Power, and later of Sauron, neither of whom could, or would, produce living things, they must be ‘corruptions’.”

This was a massive retcon, yet not a surprising one, especially considering that none of the Silmarillion material had ever been published. That same year, he did his best to explain it in another letter. Tolkien allowed that Morgoth could create things that “would at least ‘be’ real physical realities in the physical world, however evil they might prove.”

These creations would be “Morgoth’s greatest Sins, abuses of his highest privilege, and would be creatures begotten of Sin, and naturally bad.” He went on to clarify that Orcs were “irredeemably bad,” simply because they could not be redeemed. They were beyond redemption, because if they could be saved, then “even Orcs would become a part of the World, which is God’s and ultimately good.”

And so he reiterated his new idea, that he “represented at least the Orcs as pre-existing beings on whom the Dark Lord has exerted the fullness of his power in remodelling and corrupting them, and not making them.”

Obviously still unable to decide how Orcs could fit into his “theory and system,” he drafted an essay in the late 1950s to work it out. He first laid out his dilemma. The Dwarves had been created by Aulë, but only given freewill and reasoning by Illuvatar, who adopted them as sort of step-children. Since the Orcs seemed to display both freewill and reasoning, “they must be corruptions of something pre-existing.”

He then had the choice between Men and Elves to choose from. But since Men were awoken after the Orcs, and Elves were immortal (apparently unlike his conception for Orcs), he was faced with another impasse. “Elves as a source,” he concluded then, “are very unlikely.”

Tolkien thus proposed an incredible idea: “is it likely or possible that even the least of the Maiar would become Orcs?” Sauron was one of the Maiar who had been corrupted and sided with Morgoth, so why not the Orcs? To this question, Tolkien answered “Yes.”

So if the lesser Maiar could become Orcs, Tolkien reasoned, they could procreate as Elves and Men and thus become “more and more earthbound, unable to return to spirit-state (even demon-form), until released by death….” When they died, they would be damned, as was Sauron.

This, however, provided him with another problem. If they had been Maiar, which were noncorporeal, Ilúvatar would have had to provide souls for them from the beginning – a proposition which Tolkien couldn’t allow.

One of the biggest hang ups for Tolkien was that the Orcs could speak, which seemed to indicate that they had souls. To get around that, he wrote: “I think it must be assumed that ‘talking’ is not necessarily the sign of the possession of a ‘rational soul’….”

He ultimately concluded (in this same essay):

“Orcs were beasts of humanized shape (to mock Men and Elves) deliberately perverted/converted into a more close resemblance to Men. Their ‘talking’ was really reeling off ‘records’ set in them by Melkor.”

Their speech, given to them by Melkor, evolved with their species from that point on. Their independence could be categorized as that of “dogs or horses of their human masters.” In this last bit, he was saved by a line in Appendix F that states that the “Black Speech was devised by Sauron in the Dark Years.”

And just when things seemed to be gaining some sort of clarity, Tolkien muddied the waters by confusingly allowing (still in the same essay) the idea that it was “terribly possible there was an Elvish strain in the Orcs.” He suggested that they could have been mated with the Elves and Men. This might have been written to allow for the a few random half-orcs (like the swarthy fellow in Bree).

So then under what authority does the published Silmarillion state: “that all those of the Quendi who came into the hands of Melkor, ere Utumno was broken, were put there in prison, and by slow arts of cruelty were corrupted and enslaved; and thus did Melkor breed the hideous race of the Orcs in envy and mockery of the Elves….”

This section of the published Silmarillion was taken from the Annals of Amman, written in 1951-52, before Tolkien had actually figured this out. Curiously, there’s a note in the margin of this same manuscript where he jotted: “Alter this. Orcs are not Elvish.”

It seems then that Tolkien did not make this change until the late 1950s, and that his last impression of the origin of he Orcs was that they were soulless beasts created by Melkor. And yet, he never went back to change it in any of the writings that were used to construct the published Silmarillion.

Tolkien was the absolute king of retroactive continuity. He began in 1916 by stating that Meklor had created the Orcs, and concluded his writings on the subject saying the same thing. And yet, across the gulf of decades, what it meant for Melkor to create, and what that meant for the Orcs, changed drastically. It is only the published Silmarillion that leads us astray from what Tolkien’s true (and ultimate) intentions seemed to be. And yet, we have little choice but to accept it as canon – that the Orcs were bred from enslaved and corrupted Elves.

Camera: Kodak Brownie No. 2 Model D (1914) Film: Fomapan 400

Camera: Kodak Brownie No. 2 Model D (1914)
Film: Fomapan 400

A Few Notes

  • There is a manuscript from 1950ish that the Elves, upon first seeing the Orcs, speculated that they were corrupted Avari – an incredibly fun idea that I wish Tolkien would have explored.
  • When I first write these posts, I tend not to look too far ahead in my research. I love being surprised by what I find. This one was simply delicious.

About the Photo
This is – by far – my favorite photo of Goblin Valley, Utah. It was taken with a camera that predates even the earliest of Tolkien’s writings (a 1914 Kodak Brownie). It reminds me of a photo from the Civil War prison Andersonville (as seen here and even here). And that brings to mind all sorts of horrible Morgoth/Sauron prison camps scenarios.


  • Miles today: 20
  • Miles thus far: 1234 (320 miles since leaving Lothlórien)
  • 69 miles to the Falls of Rauros
  • 539 miles to Mt. Doom

Book II, Chapter 8, Farewell to Lórien. Drifting down the Anduin, February 22, 3019 TA. (map)

orcweek