October 11, 3018 – Glorfindel and the Bridge (to the Silmarillion)

Okay, hello. Welcome to October 11, 3018 of the Third Age. Or should I say Ai na vedui! Mae govannen! That’s right, today’s the freakin’ day we meet freakin’ Glorfindel. We’ll get into just who he was in a sec, but first, let’s check on the Hobbits.

Where Are the Hobbits?

On the evening of October 11, still off-roading and led by Strider, they turned northeast toward the Last Bridge, which crossed the Hoarwell. This was their fifth day out from Weathertop.

Whatever, Let’s Talk About Glorfindel’s Day!

What kind of day was the dreamy Glorfindel having? Well, since it’s awesome being Glorfindel, it’s safe to say that his day was equally awesome. Let’s see.

When Frodo saw the Elves just after leaving Hobbiton, he told them about his quest and about the Nazgûl. Through crafty, Elvish means, word got back to Rivendell. There, Elrond sent out a company of Elves to help them along. This company was led by Glorfindel the Elf-lord. They left Rivendell on October 9.

On this day, he reached the Last Bridge, called the Bridge of Mitheithel, to the Elves. He left a jewel, a “token,” as he called it.

He saw three Nazgûl near the bridge, and upon seeing him, they took off. He chased them westward. Soon after, he saw two others and they fled south. Unable to catch them, and really more concerned about Frodo than the Riders, he began to search for the Hobbits.

So Who Was Glorfindel?

The Tolkien Estate just published The Fall of Gondolin, which collected all the variations of the Gondolin story into one volume. Keen-eyed readers might notice the name “Glorfindel” crop up now and then. Was this the same fellow?

The answer to that a fuzzy “sometimes.” This obviously requires some explanation.

Nailing down Tolkien’s intentions is sometimes a bit squirrely, so let’s see if we can figure this out.

Tolkien first wrote about a character named “Glorfindel” around 1916 as part of the early Book of Lost Tales. He continued to do so through the poetic Lays from the 1920s. The same is true for the 1930 Quenta Noldorinwa. Even after writing The Hobbit, the Quenta Silmarillion of 1937 has “Glorfindel” filling the same basic role.

So when Tolkien penned the “Council of Elrond” chapter for Lord of the Rings a year later, his use of “Glorfindel” must have been a simple continuation of the First Age’s Glorfindel, right?

Well, no. Glorfindel died fighting the Balrog, Gothmog. It was “a very grievous thing,” we’re told. This demise was part of the Gondolin story from the very beginning.

That clears it up, right? The Lord of the Rings Glorfindel can’t be the Silmarillion Glorfindel because the Silmarillion Glorfindel is dead!

Except Tolkien’s first notes right before introducing Glorfindel to the LotR story were: “Glorfindel tells of his ancestry in Gondolin.”

Okay, so it’s clear that they were the same character then? Could Tolkien clear this up for us?

No. Well, not quite.

In an essay he wrote in 1972, Tolkien mused that the use of the name “Glorfindel” in Lord of the Rings might have been “one of the cases of somewhat random use of the names found in the older legends.” He claimed that its use “escaped reconsideration in the final published form of The Lord of the Rings. This was, however, due to a language issue and not necessarily a character issue (though that seems to have been there too). It seems like if he had his choice, he would have changed the name “Glorfindel” something else, though the character would have remained the same.

Tolkien did re-use names, especially before nailing down a final draft. A good example of this is Elrond from The Hobbit. That character was not originally meant to be Elrond from The Silmarillion. It was only later, after Tolkien smooshed the three stories together, that Elrond became both.

From Tolkien’s notes, however, it seems like the LotR‘s Glorfindel was originally supposed to be the Glorfindel – the one who was killed while fighting Gothmog. But how could this be?

Tolkien Ret-Cons the Crap Out Of This

In 1972 Tolkien finally tried to figure out which Glorfindel was which. If they were indeed the same person, Tolkien admitted that “difficulty is presented by the things recorded of Glorfindel in The Lord of the Rings.”

That’s putting it mildly.

Tolkien quickly put to rest the idea that LotR Glorfindel was simply named in honor of the clearly dead Silmarillion Glorfindel – basically, Elves don’t do that.

Now, here Tolkien had a fine way to leave himself an out. If he had simply said, “Glorfindel of Rivendell was named in honor of Glorfindel of Gondolin,” nobody would have cared even a little bit.

But that’s not how Tolkien did things.

Rather than that simple solution, Tolkien jumped through hoops to connect the two.

Glorfindel, along with all of the Ñoldor, were banned from entering Valinor due to rebelling against the authority of Manwë. “They could not return in bodily form to the Blessed Realm,” wrote Tolkien.

But, he rationalized, since Manwë authored the curse Manwë could also make an exception to the curse. You can practically see the lightbulb appear over old Toller’s grey head.

He continued with the justification. First, it was clear from both the Silmarillion and LotR that Glorfindel was “of high and noble spirit.” And that though he left Valinor with Turgon (and was thusly banned), he only did so reluctantly and because he was related by blood to Turgon. Also, he had no part in the kinslaying (he wasn’t even mentioned during it, so at least Tolkien didn’t have to scratch that bit out).

Adding to this, Tolkien reminded himself that Glorfindel died while saving a while slew of people.

Glorfindel’s Redemption

As soon as Glorfindel died, he was sent to Mandos to purge his guilt from the rebellion. With that out of the way, Manwë, breaking with tradition, restored him bodily and he was allowed to live in the Blessed Realm.

There, he hung out with the other Elves and became tight with the Maiar, especially as a follower of Olórin (aka, Gandalf, who had apparently already visited Middle-earth… it’s a whole thing).

Glorfindel’s return to Middle-earth came around the year 1600 of the Second Age to aid Elrond and Gil-galad in the war against Sauron.

Tolkien went on to pen an essay concerning Elvish Reincarnation, I wrote about this here and here a long time ago.

What’s Next?

In two days we’ll all meet up at the Last Bridge!

Camera: Imperial Savoy (c1960s)
Film: Ilford HP3 (x-12/1960)

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How to Tame a Balrog (Silmarillion Slow Cooker, p47)

Today we’ll not only take another look at Yavanna and Oromë, but we’ll also check in with Melkor, Sauron and the Balrogs. It’s a bit of rehashing, but that will allow us to gloss over some morsels to dig into Tolkien’s ever-changing philosophy regarding the body and the soul (and even Orcs).

This Again?
In the first chapter, we learned all about Yavanna and Oromë’s trips to Middle-earth. I wrote about it here. The previous mention of this delved into much more detail, but still we learn a few new things (and a few old things worded in slightly different ways).

Prior to Melkor destroying the Two Lamps, it had been Springtime in Arda, and Yavanna’s plants and animals began to grow. After the Lamps were taken out, Yavanna pressed pause and everything went to sleep to wait for the waking of the Children of Ilúvatar, the Elves. Tolkien focused upon a few examples of things that were halted in mid-growth. Specifically, in the plant category, he mentioned seaweed and trees. But when it came to animals, things got darker.

“…and in the valleys of the night-clad hills there were dark creatures old and strong.”
This brings us to Melkor in Atumno, and to the “dark creatures” brought up in the first paragraph. These seem to be relegated to three groupings. First were “the evil things that he had perverted.” We’ve learned in the first chapter that Yavanna’s animals “became monsters of horn and ivory and dyed the earth with blood.” (Silmarillion, p36) Melkor’s drawing near was evidenced by these changes.

His perversions weren’t the only things keeping him company, of course. The second group was labeled as “demons.” They were spirits who had sided with him earlier, and were most likely maiar. Though they certainly could have taken other forms as well, these were Balrogs.

Thirdly, we learn that Melkor bred other “monsters.” We’re given basically zero information about this. Did he mate his perversions with Balrogs? It seems possible that it could happen. Did he create something akin to Aulë’s Dwarves who would be fully-controlled by him? It seems that he had the power to do so (if Aulë had it, Melkor certainly had it, too) . But really, it’s all speculation. All we’re told is that he bred monsters. That leaves Sauron in Angband, near the western shores, standing as a fortress against the Valar to the west.

And Horror They Brought
The idea that demons and monsters flourished in the darkness brought about by Melkor had been there from the start. In the 1919 Book of Lost Tales version, the spirits which came from Melko (as he was then called) were described in much more interesting detail.

“Full of evil and unwholesome were they; luring and restlessness and horror they brought, turning the dark into an ill and fearful thing, which it was not before.”

In these early writings, extra spirits came not only from Melko, but also from Mandos (his were “very gloomy and secret”) and Lórien (they “danced thither with gentle feet exuding evening scents”). (Lost Tales 1, p99)

As his writings evolved, the early strains of this chapter can be noticed. In the 1930 Quenta, chapter two is much like the published Silmarillion‘s third chapter. Here we see the first mention of the “weeds of the sea,” but instead of trees, we get “the dark shade of yew and fir and ivy.”

But we also get not only Morgoth and Balrogs, but Orcs, which Melkor “made of stone, but their hearts of hatred.” (Shaping of Middle-earth, p82)

I described the writing history of the Orcs across a few posts (specifically, here), so I won’t go into too much detail. But when the 1937 Quenta was penned, this chapter only mentioned the Orcs to state that they had not yet been made, and would not be until Melkor “had looked upon the Elves, and he made them in mockery of the Children of Ilúvatar.” (Lost Road, p212)

Mixing It All in a Pot
This brings us to the post-Lord of the Rings era. In 1951-52, he wrote the Annals of Aman, which was basically a long-form “Tale of Years” outline for the Silmarillion material. Then, twice in the 1950s, he rewrote the Quenta again. It’s from these three sources that Christopher Tolkien compiled the published Silmarillion.

With both the Annals and the Quentas in hand, he bounced from one source to the other, plucking what he considered the best parts of each and placing them down as final. For example, much of the first paragraph (about Yavanna) comes from the Annals of Aman, while most of the second (about Melkor) comes from the later Quenta draft. However, in both, a couple sentences were swapped out here and there. The third paragraph (the one about Sauron) was actually written as a later footnote in the Annals.

How to Change a Balrog
During the editing process, Christopher Tolkien cut an interesting line about Balrogs. The published version was lifted directly from the 1950-52 Quenta draft. But the decision not to use the Annals of Aman text from a year or two later had some curious consequences. While that text, like the Quenta’s, stated that some of the evil things were perverted by Melkor, it also declared that “he wrought the race of demons whom the Elves after named the Balrogs.” (Morgoth’s Ring, p70)

Previously, I mentioned that Melkor, like Aulë, was powerful enough to create his own species, though, like the Dwarves prior to Ilúvatar, they would have no will of their own. This seems to be what Tolkien was thinking about in the earlier Annals of Aman version. Melkor wrought the Balrogs.

When Tolkien rewrote the Quenta in 1958-60, for this chapter, he mostly clung to the previous draft, but wandered around a bit about the Balrogs. This version maintained that the Balrogs were spirits who followed him from long ago. However, he used the word “ëalar,” which meant “spirit – not incarnate”. The word he would have used for something with a body was “fëa,” meaning an incarnate spirit. (Morgoth’s Ring, p165)

Why does any of this matter? Because Tolkien never really settled upon what any of this really meant. In some very late writings (collected as “Myths Transformed”), Tolkien argued that Melkor had corrupted many spirits – from the great, like Sauron, to the not-so-great, like Balrogs. But he questioned “would Eru provide fëar [spirits to be incarnated] for such creatures?” Since all spirits ultimately came from Ilúvatar, this was a fine question.

In the end, Melkor’s corruption worked on the “moral or theological level… the fëar dragging down the hröa [body] in its descent into Morgothism: hate and destruction.” This seemed to hold true for both Balrogs and Orcs. (Morgoth’s Ring, p410)

Camera: Polaroid Automatic 100 Film: Fuji FP-100C (reclaimed negative)

Camera: Polaroid Automatic 100
Film: Fuji FP-100C (reclaimed negative)

Really Reeling off Records
Concluding his final ideas about the origins of the Balrogs and Orcs, Tolkien wanders around greatly. He had set up a couple of problems for himself when writing Lord of the Rings. In this case, having the Orcs being able to talk was a huge stumbling block. If they could speak, didn’t that mean they had wills of their own?

To allow for his internal theology, the answer had to be a resounding “no”. But it also had to be explained away. The Orcs, he decided “were beasts of humanized shape.” They were not made by Melkor but altered by him in mockery. These were not like Aulë’s Dwarves in that sense. He did not create them out of whatever, but molded the Orcs from other beasts, apparently using neither Elves nor Men in the process.

As far as the talking went, he fell back upon a throw-away line from Appendix F of Lord of the Rings: “It is said that the Black Speech was devised by Sauron in the Dark Years.” From there, Tolkien reckoned that “their ‘talking’ was really reeling off ‘records’ set in them by Melkor.” Rather the Sauron, it was Melkor who taught them speech “and as they bred they inherited this; and they had just as much independence as have, say, dogs or horses of their human masters.” In this way, they were like Aulë’s Dwarves.

Having Melkor be the source of the Orcs’ wills also allowed them to rebel against Sauron “without losing their own irremediable allegiance to evil.”

The Balrogs, on the other hand, remained the same – “corrupted Maiar.” This indicates that Ilúvatar would indeed make fëar [incarnated souls] that would be able to be corrupted into Balrogs. But still, they were placed on a nearly identical level with the Orcs. “The wills of Orcs and Balrogs, etc. are part of Melkor’s power ‘dispersed’.” (Morgoth’s Ring, p410-411)

So in the case of Orcs, it seems as if their wills had always been tied to Melkor. In Balrogs, however, their original wills as given to them by Ilúvatar seem to have been taken over by Melkor.

Does Any of This Even Make Sense?
I think so. But it’s definitely a subject we’ll delve into again and again – even throughout this chapter. Besides, with the omission of anything having to do with Orcs, all you really have to remember is that Balrogs were corrupted Maiar. If you want extra-credit, just recall that they no longer have wills of their own.

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Some Note:

  • Curiously, Tolkien also concluded that Húan and even the Eagles had no fëar, no incarnated soul.

Pages & Text

  • Page 47
  • Chapter: Of the Coming of the Elves and the Captivity of Melkor, Paragraphs 1-3
  • Starting with:
    “Through long ages the Valar dwelt in bliss…”
  • Ending with:
    “…and it was named Angband.”

Ents and Eagles Out of Flippin’ Nowhere! (Silmarillion Slow Cooker, p46a)

Previously on SSC, Aulë had created the Dwarves, telling no one but Yavanna, who immediately was unthrilled. Worried about what the Dwarves (and Elves/Men) would do to her plants and animals, she beat cheeks for Manwë, keeping the whole Dwarves things on the down low. He asked her to pick one thing to protect, and she chose the trees. Manwë totally didn’t get it, but “it was in the song,” she said, referencing the song the trees sang when Manwë and Ulmo created rain. Not using his big boy ears even a little bit, Manwë totally missed the song and had to give the whole situation a bit of thought.

Manwë Gets Hip to the Trip, Daddy-O
As Manwë was deep in thought, probably mulling over how someone as awesome as he was could not pick up the song of the trees, Ilúvatar, like the ethereal Arthur Fonzarelli that he was, elbowed the cosmic jukebox and caused Manwë to hear the cut once more. This time, he caught it.

The song of the trees was a vision, which now included Manwë. Think of it as A-ha’s “Take On Me” video, if you like – “all was upheld by the hand of Ilúvatar; and the hand entered in…” When it did, Manwë saw everything that he missed the first time, and quite a bit more which Ilúvatar only showed to him in that moment.

What Ilúvatar showed him was that Yavanna’s wish for the trees to be protected would come to life. When the Elves finally awoke, “spirits from afar” would come to Arda and go among the plants and animals. Some would dwell within the bodies of these living things “and their just anger will be feared.”

These were, among possible other creatures, the Eagles and the Ents. They would thrive pretty much at the same time as the Elves. When the Men would later come into power, they would withdraw.

This doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. It was Dwarves that Yavanna was mostly worried about. Men would have had to come in second on the Valar Anxiety Scale. That the protectors of the plants and animals would wane when these Men came into power (what to speak of the Dwarves) seems like it would be bad timing at best.

Wait.. The Eagles Came From What?
While Tolkien isn’t known for his bad writing and campy dialog, much bad writing and campy dialog was inspired by Tolkien. What first comes to mind is the movie Ator 2 – L’invincibile Orion
, also known as The Blade Master, but more famous from its appearance in a Mystery Science Theater 3000 episode, Cave Dwellers. When Zor asked Akronis: “Why did your daughter fly like an arrow straight towards the sun?” it’s some if the most perfectly bad ‘Tolkien’.

Unfortunately the same effect is achieved by Tolkien himself when Manwë asked Yavanna: “Did not thy thought and mine meet also, so that we took wing together like great birds that soar above the clouds?” Seriously, Tollers. Were you high?

But this little bit of scribble explains how the Eagles were manifest. “That also shall come to be by the heed of Ilúvatar, and before the children awake there shall go forth with wings like the wind of Eagles of the Lords of the West.” That’s right. The Eagles will go forth with the wings like the wind of Eagles. Come on! Sum up!

Picking through all of this, we can deduce that the Eagles in Middle-earth, such as Gwaihir, were based upon Manwë’s Eagles, which were themselves based upon actual eagles. Why? Because Manwë and Yavanna’s thoughts were somehow soaring like eagles. Ilúvatar saw this brilliant metaphor and acted upon it. Chicks dig metaphors.

Who’s Zoomin’ Who? What? When?
It’s not stated how many times Yavanna rolled her eyes at Manwë’s bad poetry, but in the end, she figured that it would be the Eagles of Middle-earth who would perch in the trees, watching over the forests. That should thought this indicates that what Yavanna heard in the song of the trees, the “Music,” wasn’t anything even closely resembling the Ents. Basically, it seems what Yavanna heard was that the things she devised, animals and plants, required some sort of protection regardless of the Dwarves.

What Manwë heard (when he finally bothered to listen) was that the Eagles and Ents were what that protection would look like. It just took a lot of breath to spit it out.

Manwë explained that the Eagles would roost in the mountains “and hear the voices of those who call upon us” while “the Shepherds of the Trees” [the Ents] will walk in the forests. While the Ents bit is pretty clear, the Eagles role isn’t at all.

It would be simple to say that the Ents would watch over the plants and the Eagles would look after the animals. But that’s not what’s said. It’s sort of implied that the Ents would take care of both roles, while the Eagles would, in Manwë’s words, “hear the voices of those who call upon us.” Eagle Post?

But who would be calling upon the Valar? And when? The chronology of this is scattered. We learn first that “when the Children awake” the thought of Yavanna will also awake “and it will summon spirits from afar,” which will go among the plants and animals. However, we’re also told that “before the Children awake” the combined thought of Manwë and Yavanna “there shall go forth with wings like the wind of Eagles of the Lords of the West.”

So basically the Eagles will come before the Children wake, and the Ents will come when the Children wake. But if the Eagles’ only job is to “hear the voices of those who call upon us” what the hell will they be doing before the Children are awakened? Were they to hear the Maiar? It’s all pretty vague.

Camera: Mamiya 645 Film: Fomapan 100

Camera: Mamiya 645
Film: Fomapan 100

Never Mind Me, I’m Just Smithin’ Around
Whatever Manwë meant, Yavanna seemed thrilled and a little sassy. When she got back to Aulë, she found him in his smithy pouring molten metal into a mold because of course he was. Filled with a bit of piss and vinegar, she said to him: “Now let thy children beware! For there shall walk a power in the forest whose wrath they will arouse at their peril.”

Notice how she really doesn’t seem to care at all about the Eagles. She seems to be saying “sure, Manwë, our thoughts were like one and soared like an Eagle to the sea, soared like an Eagle, let my spirit carry me the fuck out of your creepy little god space!” Or some such thing.

But Aulë, who really didn’t have any room to be sassy in return, was sassy in return. “Nonetheless they will have need of wood.” Sure, but whose fault is that, Aulë? Who came up with that little quirk, oh Lord of Needing Wood for Stuff? Oh Sunshine, you can’t have it both ways. And with that, he went back to his work, scorning Yavanna and basically winning everything. He was kind of a dick like that.

Now, of course, the groundwork is laid for the myriad battles and conflicts fought between the Dwarves and the Ents over the plethora of forests in Middle-earth! I can’t wait to read about how Durin’s Folk clear cut the Grey Wood only to be torn asunder by the vengeful wrath of the Ents! We’ll all thrill at the exciting tales of when the Dwarf Lords diverted the Tieglin, choking the trees of Brethil, and raising the spiteful ire of Forest Shepherds to murderous rage!

That’s all bound to happen, right? Oh of course it is! And it’ll be absolutely smashing!

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Some Note:

  • The Fonz!

Pages & Text

  • Page 46
  • Chapter: Of Aulë and Yavanna, Paragraphs 17-23
  • Starting with:
    “Then Manwë sat silent, and the thought of Yavanna…”
  • Ending with:
    “…and he went on with his smith-work.”

The Answer to Life, the Universe, and We Have No Idea (Silmarillion Slow Cooker, p42)

If you were looking for the biggest difference, contention and problem between Elves and Men, look no farther than death and lack thereof. In the two closing paragraphs of Chapter One in the Silmarillion proper, we’ll take a necessarily short look at Men and Elves. We’ll also see how Tolkien’s conception of death for his characters evolved over time. But first, we’ll get a peek at what the Elves thought of Men.

You Can’t Spell Melkor without Me!
During the Music, after Melkor tried to stir up discord, Ilúvatar told him that even if he tried to alter the music, he still “shall prove but mine instrument in the devising of things more wonderful, which he himself hath not imagined.” And when it came to Men, Ilúvatar had something strikingly similar to say about them not using their gifts in harmony. He said that they would “find that all that they do redounds at the end only to the glory of my work.”

To the Elves, this equated Men with Melkor in a pretty serious way. Even though Ilúvatar was somewhat reassuring, they still saw Men as “a grief to Manwë, who knows most the mind of Ilúvatar.” They wouldn’t have said, of course, that Men were a grief to Ilúvatar, but instead took the passive-aggressive approach. Because when your deity tells you it’s cool, it’s probably best to assume you know better. Elves can be dicks in all sorts of ways.

As we’ll see later, Elves had a huge problem with Dwarves. And as we’re seeing now, they have a huge problem with Men. Very often, they have a huge problem with each other, as well. Elves see to have a huge problem with everything. Sure, they’re all sorts of wonderful, but they’re also wonderfully bitchy drama queens.

This specific bit of bitchiness was originally attributed by Tolkien to the Ainur in the early, 1919 draft of the story. (BoLT 1, p59) In the mid-1930s, when Tolkien revised the “Music of the Ainur” of the Lost Tales, he changed it from the Ainur to the Elves. (Lost Road, p163, 165) Otherwise, it’s surprising how incredibly close the 1919 version is to the final 1951 text published in the Silmarillion.

You Lucky Bastards! Best Gift Ever! *coughcough*
The last paragraph of Chapter One is chalked full of nuggety morsels of information. Let’s take them one by one.

  1. Men only live on Earth a short time. When they die, the Elves have no idea where they go. This death is a gift because it just is (apparently).
  2. We’re not told why or how death is a gift to Men. We’re not even told who came up with that little gem. Ilúvatar was keeping this Man thing pretty close to this ethereal vest. All he would say was that “Men shall join in the Second Music of the Ainur,” indicating by omission that the Elves may not. If anything, that is the gift, not death, but maybe the Elves didn’t really want to focus upon that little mystery. At time wears on, even the Ainur are supposed to envy death, or so say the Elves writing this bit. This all sound pretty disingenuous.

  3. The Elves do not have a natural death, but can be killed by being slain or by grief.
  4. Curiously, we never see any examples of Elves dying by grief. There are slews slain by all sorts of salacious means (including poison), but never by grief. As we go on in this story, I’ll take a close look at each mentioned death of the Elves.

  5. When Elves die, they go to the Halls of Mandos. They can return sometimes.
  6. Well this is pretty loaded. The Halls of Mandos aren’t ‘in heaven’, but in Valinor. We have a handful of examples of Elves returning from the Halls – being reincarnated like Glorfindel.

    This wasn’t always Tolkien’s conception, however. In the 1919 version, the Elves didn’t go anywhere, but were “reborn in their children, so that their number minishes not, nor grows.” (BoLT 1, p59) Once dead, the Elves in Tolkien’s early tales simply started over as their own children. This is another bonkers idea that was changed and then changed back before being changed again.

Camera: Holga 120N Film: FujiChrome Provia 100

Camera: Holga 120N
Film: FujiChrome Provia 100

Don’t Fëar the Reaper
In the very first draft of the Ainulindalë, Tolkien had the dead Elves go to the halls of Mandos, stating that only some of the Elves would be reborn as their children. The next draft, which came shortly thereafter, changed it back to the original nuttiness. (Lost Road, p166, 163) This idea was carried through the writing of both The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings, and even into the third draft of the Ainulindalë from 1948, which again stated that “often they return and are reborn in their children.” (Morgoth’s Ring, p21)

Surprisingly, this was held as true in 1951’s final draft as well, which is where Christopher Tolkien derived the text for this portion of the chapter. But, as you’ll notice, that’s not what’s printed. Instead, we read that “they may return in time.” If Tolkien wrote that they would be reborn in their children, why did Christopher change this?

Tolkien himself changed this concept, but never went back into the Ainulindalë to revise it. In 1958, when rewriting what would become that last of the Quenta drafts, he penned a chapter called “Of the Laws and Customs Among the Eldar….” It covered things like death and marriage.

Pertaining to rebirth, it had quite a bit to say. Each new elf-child was given a new soul (called fëa), which was “not akin to the fëar [plural of fëa, souls] of their parents (save in belonging to the same order and nature); and this fëa either did not exist before birth, or is the fëa of one that is re-born.” Re-birth, however, was rare, and the Elves even doubted at times that it existed. (Morgoth’s Ring, p220-221)

This is really more in depth than I wished to go, but if you have access to Morgoth’s Ring, read it for yourself. It’s pretty amazing. Anyway, with this greatly changed, Christopher Tolkien was justified in changing the source text to the very uncertain “they may return in time.”

Careless Memories
Though Christopher Tolkien was justified in the aforementioned change, I really don’t get the omission of a short but crucial sentence: “Memory is our burden.” (Morgoth’s Ring, p37)

If you’ll remember, before it was edited by Christopher Tolkien, most of his father’s writing was originally held within the framing that an Elf (Pengoloð) was teaching the Silmarillion to an Englishman (Ælfwine). Pengoloð momentarily broke off from the narrative, and spoke directly to Ælfwine, telling him that “Memory is our burden.” The jarring change from third person to first and back to third again might have been too much for Christopher. But couldn’t he have somehow amended it?

This short sentence gives us a clear understanding of why being deathless is such a pain in the ass. The memories are too much. The gift, then, might be that due to their short life, Men don’t have this problem. Their memories only stretch for a century on average (a bit longer or shorter here and there). The Elves, on the other hand, may last as long as the World. By the end, the entire history of their people might be bound up in their minds. This is no small thing. And yet, this was omitted and we’re left to not even consider this concept.

______________________

Some Note:

  • I really meant to get into the “Athrabeth Finrod Ah Andreth” also in Morgoth’s Ring, but didn’t have the time. In it, Finrod and the learned women, Andreth (a human) debate the whole death is a gift business. Seriously, why don’t you have a copy of Morgoth’s Ring?

Pages & Text

  • Page 42
  • Chapter: Of the Beginning of Days, Paragraphs 23-24
  • Starting with:
    “But Ilúvatar knew that men…”
  • Ending with:
    “…and Melkor has not discovered it.”

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)

Tolkien’s Final Words on Middle-earth – Galadriel Unstained

In the last few weeks of his life, Tolkien had a visitor named Tony Giffard, the Earl of Halsbury. He and Lord Halsbury had been friends since the 1950s, when Tolkien had even given him a copy of the Silmarillion to read.

Being very familiar with the material, having read it for nearly twenty years, when Lord Halsbury would visit, he and Tolkien would discuss different aspects of the legendarium. On July 26, 1973, they discussed Galadriel. Though no record really exists of their talk, Tolkien quickly took to writing what they must have discussed.

First, he went back to the Annals of Aman, a sort of Tale of Years for the Silmarillion-era, which he started writing in the 1930s. In 1951, after writing Lord of the Rings, he returned to it, rewriting much of what came before.

Based on this meeting with Lord Halsbury, in the summer of 1973, he made a short margin note next to a section about the Kinslaying. Originally, Tolkien had the Second Column of the Noldor, assumedly with Galadriel, coming in on the side of Fëanor to kill the Teleri. The margin note, however tells a different story:

“Finrod and Galadriel (whose husband was of the Teleri) fought against Fëanor in defense of Alqualondë.”

Tolkien had batted around both the idea that Celeborn, Galadriel’s husband, was actually a Teleri, and that she fought against Fëanor. In a way, this was nothing new. But in another way, with this margin note, it seemed about to be made canon. The Annals of Aman, as opposed to the notes discussed in my previous post, was the backbone of the whole Silmarillion. If it happened in the Annals, it was about as canon as it could get.

On August 4th, about a week after Halsbury’s visit, Tolkien wrote to him. Looking on it now, it is a sad letter. In it, Tolkien made tentative plans to have Halsbury help him finally finish his life’s work. “When you retire,” he wrote, “I shall certainly beg your help. Without it, I begin to feel I shall never produce any part of The Silmarillion.”

Since the visit, Tolkien had become “vividly aware” of Halsbury’s effect on him, and needed that inspiration to continue. Since publishing Lord of the Rings, Tolkien had “lost confidence.” He wanted Halsbury to visit again soon so they could talk more about it.

Of Galadriel, he wrote:

“Galadriel was ‘unstained’: she had committed no evil deeds. She was an enemy of Fëanor. She did not reach Middle-earth with the other Noldor, but independently. Her reasons for desiring to go to Middle-earth were legitimate, and she would have been permitted to depart, but for the misfortune that before she set out the revolt of Fëanor broke out, and she became involved in the desperate measure of Manwe, and the ban on all emigration.”

This is quite a bit to take in. Those who have read the Silmarillion know (or “know”) that Galadriel was not unstained. She specifically went to Middle-earth to “rule there a realm of her own.” In a later writing, Tolkien took it even farther, indicating that she had desired since youth to rule over all of Middle-earth. She was prideful and cunning and got her own way. This new Galadriel was certainly someone different than all previous Galadriels.

Around the time he wrote the letter, Tolkien also wrote a brief and partially illegible outline. This outline built upon the margin note and the letter to Halsbury, and turned out to be the last thing Tolkien ever wrote about the legendarium.

This new Galadriel wished to return to Middle-earth because the Valar had taught her all they could. “Being brilliant in mind and swift in action she had early absorbed all of what she was capable of the teaching which the Valar thought fit to give the Eldar.” She felt “confined” in Valinor.

Manwë knew about her desire and didn’t forbid her to leave. But he hadn’t given her his blessing, either, so she held off on leaving. Instead, she went to her mother’s people, the Teleri in Alqualondë. She went there to see about a ship to take her to Middle-earth.

It was there she met Celeborn, who, in this version, seems less like a wet blanket. They built a ship together, and were about to ask Manwë for permission to leave Valinor when Melkor and Ungoliant destroyed the Light of the Trees.

This naturally put a kink in her plan, as did Fëanor’s revolt, which soon followed. Here, she played no role at all in the revolt. During the Kinslaying, when Fëanor attacked Alqulondë, Galadriel and Celeborn were living there and fought against him, even managing to save the ship that they had built.

After the attack, Galadriel left Valinor, even though Manwë did not, and likely would not, give his permission. She was horrified at Fëanor’s violence and despaired of Valinor. So then it was now more of a question of timing than intent that made her fall under the ban against the Noldor.

Somehow, they reached Middle-earth ahead of Fëanor and lived more or less as they had in previous versions – with Thingol, and then in various places around Beleriand. As before, they wanted to build up their power in the east, where they thought Morgoth would be reinforced. They moved there, and though there is no mention of Dwarves, they befriended the Dark Elves and Men, teaching them what they could. For some reason, this didn’t fly with the Elves of Beleriand.

After the First Age, when the Noldor were pardoned by the Valar, Galadriel and Celeborn rejected the offer and remained in Middle-earth. No specific reason was given why they stayed.

One thing that is striking about the outline is that Galadriel and Celeborn are seen as more of a unit than ever before. Celeborn gets a nice promotion to Teleri, but he also does stuff! He builds a boat, fights against Fëanor and teaches the Dark Elves. Everything they do, they do together. Really, the only thing that indicates that she’s of a higher stature than Celeborn is that she’s a Noldo while he’s Telerin (hell, she’s half-Telerin).

This new Galadriel would have changed everything so much so that much of the Silmarillion would have had to be rewritten. Given the time, and maybe a few more visits from Lord Halsbury, something most definitely would have come from this.

By all indications, in early August of 1973, Tolkien was ready to begin another rewriting (or intense re-editing) of the Silmarillion material. In the last few weeks of his life, he was up and around, visiting a botanic Ggarden a couple of times and staying with friends in Bournemouth.

On the 31st of August, he was taken to a hospital for an acute bleeding gastric ulcer. His family was summoned, but the next day he developed a chest infection, and in the early morning of the next, he died.

Tolkien loved Galadriel, that’s perfectly clear. And it’s only fitting that she was the last of his characters to be with him before his death. It’s a tragedy that he was not able to continue this line of thought. Though it’s a bizarre departure from the more gray-area Galadriel that I enjoy, he obviously felt something reawaken in him because of Lord Halsbury and because of Galadriel (and, I suppose, Celeborn).

Camera: Kodak Signet Film: Eastman Plus-X (expired 2004)

Camera: Kodak Signet
Film: Eastman Plus-X (expired 2004)

A Few Notes

  • Halsbury liked the Silmarillion, and suggested in the late 50s that it might be published as a serial subscription. Tolkien thanked him for the idea, but figured that the success of Lord of the Rings would guarantee that the Silmarillion would soon be published. Of course, it wasn’t, but the friendship they struck lasted for two decades until Tolkien’s death.
  • In a letter sent by Halsbury, the Earl apparently said some flattering things about Tolkien. In reply, Tolkien wrote: “You pile Weathertop on Erebor, as Bilbo might have said, with your other generosities.” This is a phrase I encourage everyone to use. A lot.
  • The letter is No. 353. The margin note appears in Morgoth’s Ring. And the outline is paraphrased in Unfinished Tales.
  • And that about does it for the Galdriel History posts. Well, almost. Next, I’m going to do a timeline with changes and then we’ll check in on the Fellowship’s voyage down the Anduin.

About the Photo
Since Celeborn and Galadriel built a boat, I had to include a boat picture. Weirdly, since I’m almost totally surrounded by water, I don’t have many photos of boats. I do have this one, however. And so here it is.


  • Miles today: 10
  • Miles thus far: 1094 (180 miles since leaving Lothlórien)
  • 209 miles to the Falls of Rauros
  • 679 miles to Mt. Doom

Book II, Chapter 8, Farewell to Lórien. Drifting down the Anduin, February 20, 3019 TA. (map)

When Arwen Renounced the Twilight and Aragorn Addressed the Oliphant in the Room

For Frodo, as we saw yesterday, Cerin Amroth, the hill just outside of Lothlorien proper, was an incredibly magical place. For everyone in the Fellowship, it seemed like a fine spot for a rest.

But Aragorn was different. When Frodo saw him, he was “standing still and silent as a tree; but in his hand was a small golden bloom of elanor, and a light was in his eyes. He was wrapped in some fair memory: and as Frodo looked at him he knew that he beheld things as they once had been in this same place.”

Arwen vanimelda, namárië! – Fair Arwen, farewell!

This hill, Cerin Amroth, was more than dear to Aragorn. Thirty-eight years prior, it was here that he vowed to marry Arwen Undómiel.

The Aragorn and Arwen story is told in the fifth part of Appendix A, and is surprisingly long and detailed. To break it down, here’s a quick time line (nothing tells the story of true love and sacrifice like a time line!):

241 (Third Age) – Arwen is born to Elrond and Celebrían in Rivendell. She is the youngest of three children. Most of her early life is unknown, but she went between Rivendell and Lothlorien regularly, staying with her maternal grandparents, Galadriel and Celeborn. This was a close family, and from Galadriel, Celebrían inherited the Elessar, the Elfstone, a beautiful green gem said to have the sun’s light within it. Celebrían later gave it to Arwen.

2929 – Aragorn’s parents, Arathorn and Gilraen, are wed. The marriage was opposed by Gilraen’s parents, because they thought that she was too young. Arathorn was 56, and Gilraen only 22. This April-September romance was lovely, but the big fear was that Arathorn would be made Chieftain of the Dúnedain before too long. This was a strange worry, since Arathorn’s father was 110 years old, and the Dúnedain often lived well past 150. But still…

2930 – Arathorn’s father is taken by hill-trolls and killed. This made Arathorn the Chieftain of the Dúnedain long before anyone (except Gilraen’s parents) suspected it would happen.

2931 – Aragorn is born! By birth, being in the line descending from Isildor, he would someday be head of the Dúnedain, like his father and grandfather, etc. Curiously, Aragorn’s grandmother predicted that Aragorn would someday wear a green stone upon his breast.

2933 – Aragorn’s father was fighting against Orcs with the sons of Elrond (Arwen’s twin brothers). He took an arrow in the eye and died, leaving the two year old Aragorn Chieftain of the Dúnedain. To Gilraen, a 26 year old widow and now single mother, this was too much. To protect her son, she took him to live in Rivendell and to be raised by Elrond, who changed Aragorn’s name to Estel, which meant “Hope”. His true identity was hidden from him.

For the next fifteen or so years, Aragorn hung out in Rivendell until he was old enough to accompany Elrond’s sons on adventures, when he leaves. It’s also during this time that Arwen was at Lothlorien. And keep in mind that in 2941 all the stuff in The Hobbit took place. It’s likely then, that Aragorn was in Rivendell when Bilbo and the Dwarves visited. He would have been ten years old.

2951 – The twenty year old Aragorn returns to Rivendell and Elrond tells him of his lineage. He gives him the ring of Barahir, which had been given to Barahir (Beren’s father) by Finrod in the First Age. It had somehow survived a trip to Numenor (even its downfall) and was passed down by Elendil and his heirs and through some twists and turns, it wound up in Rivendell sometime after 1979 of the Third Age. There it joined the shards of Narsil (Isildur’s broken sword), the star of Elendil, and the sceptre of Annuminas. Elrond also gave Aragorn the shards of Narsil, but wouldn’t give him the sceptre until he was king (as in the Return of the King).

But this year was also important for another reason. The day after receiving the Ring of Barahir, Aragorn met Arwen, whom nobody in Rivendell bothered to mention. She had returned from Lothlorien and Aragorn, being all poetic, thought her to be Lúthien Tinúviel, of Beren and Lúthien fame. He immediately fell in love, even though she was 2,690 years older.

When Elrond caught wind of this, he was not at all pleased – not only because of the normal father-daughter hang ups, but for two other reasons. First, she was halfelven, which meant that she could choose to be immortal and travel to the West, but if she married a mortal, she would become a mortal. Also, Elrond knew Aragorn’s true purpose, and a wife would only get in the way of that. I went into more detail about this here.

The very next day, Aragorn left Rivendell and wouldn’t return for nearly thirty years.

2980 – While returning to Rivendell, Aragorn made a stopover in Lothlorien. Galadriel gave him a fine set of silver and white clothes, a nice grey cloak and a gem to wear on his brow. It was in these new digs that Arwen saw him. She was smitten and spent months walking around Lothlorien together.

In the misleadingly-named Midsummer (which was actually the first day of Summer – Mid-year’s day), it was time for Aragorn to leave. They “went to the fair hill, Cerin Amroth, in the midst of the land, and they walked unshod on the undying grass with elanor and niphredil about their feet. And there upon that hill they looked east to the Shadow of and west to the Twilight, and they plighted their troth and were glad.”

While they were on the hill, Arwen (who still called him Estel – adorable) foresaw that he would “be among the great who would destroy” the Shadow. But Aragorn couldn’t see it. He, of course, said that he wasn’t with the Shadow, but he also really had to address the huge Oliphaunt in the room.

“I am mortal, and if you will cleave to me, Evenstar, then Twilight you must also renounce.”

By renouncing the Twilight, she made her decision to become mortal and to die like mortals die. On Cerin Amroth, she gave up unending life to be with Aragorn.

It’s no wonder, in the year 3019, when Aragorn returned to the hill again that he was “still and silent as a tree”, holding elanor and thinking of that Midsummer day. Over the 39 years since he had last been there, he had grown older – he was now 88 years old. But when Frodo saw him, “the grim years were removed from the face of Aragorn, and he seemed clothed in white, a young lord tall and fair; and he spoke words in the Elvish tongue to one whom Frodo could not see. Arwen vanimelda, namárië! he said, and then he drew a breath, and returning out of his thought he looked at Frodo and smiled.”

Camera: Pentax K-1000 Film: Eastman Plus-X (x-2004)

Camera: Pentax K-1000
Film: Eastman Plus-X (x-2004)

A Few Notes

  • Tolkien never figured out the history of the Elfstone, coming up with two ideas, which we’ll get into some other time.
  • If my grandmother could see the future, and all she predicted was that someday I’d wear a green stone, I’d be pretty pissed. Sure, it all worked out, but until it did, I’d seriously question her usefulness as a seer.
  • Carried off by hill-trolls!? Shot in the eye by an Orc arrow!? Tolkien, as we’ve seen, loved weird deaths. Me too.
  • Nobody – absolutely nobody – even mentioned to Aragorn that Elrond had a daughter? For all he knew, Elrond had two sons and that was it. Messed up? Sure is!

About the Photo
For Elves, the West – the Twilight – was across the Sea. And it was this that Arwen was renouncing. I took this at Ruby Beach, along the Washington coast a few weeks ago.


  • Day 184
  • Miles today: 5
  • Miles thus far: 907 (455 from Rivendell)
  • 7 miles to Lothlórien proper
  • 866 miles to Mt. Doom

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

Tolkien’s Book of Lost Balrogs (Part One)

Many things that Tolkien included in Lord of the Rings had their origins in his early writings for the Silmarillion. However, that posthumously-published work went through decades of changes before his son, Christopher, finally published it in 1977. The idea of the Balrogs, as well as their story, went through several important changes after being invented in some of his earliest drafts. That’s hardly surprising, really. What’s most remarkable is just how much they didn’t change.

The first mention of Balrogs came when he was writing the latter bits of the Book of Lost Tales, a sort of precursor to the Silmarillion. It was during the Fall of Gondolin when they were first mentioned. Tolkien referred to this story as the first that he wrote. That’s only technically true. He started writing the Cottage of Lost Play earlier, but for some reason didn’t see it as a story. At any rate, Balrogs popped up early, in the first months of 1917 – thirty-seven years before the publication of Lord of the Rings.

This passage is wonderful, describing the many different creatures created by Melko’s (Melkor’s/Morgoths) “most cunning smiths and sorcerers.” Some were made of iron, others were Orcs, some were given “hearts and spirits of blazing fire.” But concerning the Balrogs:

“[Y]et others were creatures of pure flame that writhed like ropes of molten metal, and they brought to ruin whatever fabric they came nigh, and iron and stone melted before them and became as water, and upon them rode the Balrogs in hundreds….”

This first mention of Balrogs tells us almost nothing about them, except that they were hearty enough to ride whatever these things were. But soon enough, he would describe them.

“Now these were demons with whips of flame and claws of steel by whom he tormented those of the Noldoli who durst withstand him [Melko] in anything….”

While the Orcs were soldiers, the Balrogs were basically tanks. Not only did they have whips and steel claws, but they were also archers who shot arrows of flame into the city. Prior to the battle at Gondolin, no Man nor Elf had ever killed one. They were twice as tall as a Man and much more powerful. They were apparently intelligent, too, being captains of Melko’s forces.

We learn that some of the Balrogs came to battle on a snake of fire – “Flames gust from the jaws of that worm and folk wither before it.” Also: “Ecthelion’s left arm got a sore rent from a whip of the Balrog’s.” They were, in Tolkien’s words, “demons,” though he seemed more like he was picking a word to describe them, rather than insinuating that they actually came from the Christian concept of Hell.

However, they were not invincible. During the battle for Gondolin, scores of Balrogs were killed. In one instance, Glorfindel cut off a Balrog’s whip-arm at the elbow. “Then sprang the Balrog in the torment of his pain and fear full at Glorfindel, who stabbed like a dart of a snake.” As in the Silmarillion version, both Glorfindel and the Balrog die. Curiously, the Balrog fell down into a chasm, but before completely disappearing, it grabbed Glorfindel’s yellow locks “and those twain fell into the abyss.”

While in the later “canon” anyone who killed a Balrog also died, this was not necessarily the case in the early writings. Many on both sides died, so it’s possible that whomever killed a Balrog shared its fate, but it’s not said explicitly.

In the published Silmarillion, the Balrog that killed Feanor is named Gothmog. That name also comes from this 1917 writing. He was “a son of Melko and the ogress Fluithuin and his name is Strife-and-hatred, and he was Captain of the Balrogs and the lord of Melko’s host ere fair Ecthelion slew him at the taking of Gondolin.”

The whole “son of Melkor and Fluithuin” thing went along with the Valar having spouses and children – an idea that Tolkien thankfully abandoned after “finishing” the Book of Lost Tales writings.

Around 1920, Tolkien decided to tell his stories in poetry rather than prose. Across much of the decade, he wrote the Lay of the Children of Hurin and the Lay of Leithian, and Balrogs appeared in both (which makes sense, since this was more or less a retelling/re-examing of his Book of Lost Tales ideas).

Here, we learn quite a bit more about the Balrogs. In the story of Hurin, he is captured by Morgoth and tortured by Lungorthin, “Lord of Balrogs,” and others, who used their whips of fire.

Then the Lord of Hell lying-hearted
to where Hurin hung hastened swiftly,
and the Balrogs about him brazen-handed
with flails of flame and forged iron
there laughed as they looked on his lonely woe

The early Balrogs weren’t just more human, they also laughed – something that Tolkien would nix later in his life.

And then, in the Lay of Leithian, which is a retelling of the Beren and Luthien story, they are mentioned, though pretty much in passing:

They woke, and felt the trembling sound,
the beating echo far underground
shake beneath them, the rumour vast
of Morgoth’s forges; and agast
they heard the tramp of stony feet
that shod with iron went down that street:
the Orcs went forth to rape and war,
and Balrog captains marched before.

When Beren and Luthien enter Morgoth’s layer, it’s described in some fairly nasty ways (and really worth the reading). Here’s a bit of it:


About him sat his awful thanes,
the Balrog-lords with fiery manes,
redhanded, mouthed with fangs of steel;
devouring wolves were crouched at heel.

Through both poems, Orcs and Balrogs pop up everywhere. Still, we see that they hadn’t changed at all from their earlier incarnation. And though a figure isn’t given for their number, we have no reason to think that they’ve decreased from the “hundreds” as written before.

Tolkien took a break from all of that poetry to begin writing The Hobbit, which he started in 1927ish. This work was devoid of such things as Balrogs. Presumably, it’s because he thought by the time of the Hobbit, Balrogs no longer existed. With the Book of Lost Tales, he had the sliver of an idea that Morgoth would be defeated, his Balrogs killed, but never wrote it out.

It was around this time that Tolkien became a bit sidetracked (though much less than we’d think). One day in 1929 or 1930, while grading papers, he came across a sheet of blank paper submitted by a student. “… and on it I wrote: ‘In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.'”

And with that, we’ll pick up again in a couple of days…

Camera: Bolsey Jubliee Film: ORWO UN54

Camera: Bolsey Jubliee
Film: ORWO UN54

A Few Notes

  • I’ll be covering the Balrogs in two sections. The first, which deals with Balrogs from before the LotR will be in two parts. The second will cover their evolution through the writing of LotR and his later essays and drafts of the Silmarillion. That will come in time. No rush, really.
  • When trying to suss out whether Tolkien based the Balrogs on something from ancient lore, I came up empty. Some scholars suggest Tisiphone from Virgil’s Aeneid, but I really don’t think so. The only resemblence is that she uses a whip (and it’s not even a whip of fire): In a moment, Tisiphone the torturer, with uplifted scourge, lashes from side to side the spurned and guilty soul: and brandishing in her left hand knots of serpents, summons her unpitying sisterhood.
  • If you want an incredibly different take on the Fall of Gondolin, read the version from Book of Lost Tales, Vol. 2. There’s some crazy dark stuff in there. Here’s a quick glimpse: “Then on a time Melko assembled all his most cunning smiths and sorcerers, and of iron and flame they wrought a host of monsters such as have only at that time been seen and shall not again be till the Great End. Some were all of iron so cunningly linked that they might flow like slow rivers of metal or coil themselves around and above all obstacles before them, and these were filled in their innermost depths with the grimmest of the Orcs with scimitars and spears; others of bronze and copper were given hearts and spirits of blazing fire, and they blasted all that stood before them with the terror of their snorting or trampled whatso escaped the ardour of their breath; yet others were creatures of pure flame that writhed like ropes of molten metal, and they brought to ruin whatever fabric they cam nigh, and iron and stone melted before them and became as water, and upon them rode the Balrogs in hundreds; and these were the most dire of all those monsters which Melko devised against Gondolin.”

About the Photo
This was a really fun post for me to write, and since the Balrogs were so evil, I wanted an appropriately evil photo. I took this near Mount St. Helens a few weeks ago. I was bummed because of the fog, but I think it really worked out.


  • Day 174
  • Miles today: 5
  • Miles thus far: 859 (405 from Rivendell)
  • 32 miles to Lothlórien
  • 920 miles to Mt. Doom

Book II, Chapter 6, Lothlorien. Entering Lothlorien. January 16, 3019 TA. (map)

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)

Did Sauron Willingly Foresake His Body?

Though Tolkien seemed to have a fairly good idea what happened to Sauron after Isildur cut off the Ring, he told it in several differing ways across the years, and usually in conjunction with the Isildur story (seriously, I don’t think I’m ever going to get out of the Isildur story).

Gandalf explains to Frodo in “The Shadow of the Past” chapter of Lord of the Rings: “Then Sauron was vanquished and his spirit fled and was hidden for long years, until his shadow took shape again in Mirkwood.” All Elrond says in the “Council of Elrond” was the “Sauron was diminished, but not destroyed.”

In the Silmarillion, it’s written: “Then Sauron was for that time vanquished, and he forsook his body, and his spirit fled far away and hid in waste places; and he took no visible shape again for many long years.”

The differences seem trifling, but in the latter account (written several years after he wrote the Lord of the Rings, it almost seems as if Sauron willingly left his body – “he forsook his body” – he renounced it, abandoned it. The earlier accounts don’t mention anything of his will, so it’s not a contradiction, really. But you certainly wouldn’t assume that Sauron willingly gave up his body from the Lord of the Rings accounts.

So where did all this start? If we look back on the early drafts of the Lord of the Rings, we’ll see that Sauron (still the Necromancer) hadn’t been nearly-slain by Isildur until a few drafts in. Through the whole “First Phase” of the writing, which took about seven or eight months, nothing is mentioned of it.

Then, a few months later, he wrote a chapter that would eventually be divvied out between the “Shadow of the Past” and “Council of Elrond” chapters.

“But he forsook his bodily shape and fled like a ghost to waste places until he rested in Mirkwood and took shape again in the darkness.”

This sounds like a mashing of Gandalf’s account and that from the Silmarillion (which seemed to be a retelling of Elrond’s account).

Interestingly, Elrond didn’t mention the Isildur/Sauron story during the Council of Elrond through the first three “phases” of writing. It wasn’t until the fourth draft of the Council of Elrond (written probably around August of 1940 – a year and a half after he started) that Elrond brought up the Isildur story. But in that, he only said: Then Elrond spoke of the winning of the Ring, and the flight of Sauron, and the peace that came to the West of Middle-earth for a time.” In the fifth and “final” (for a long time) draft, nothing was more was added.

And that leads us to the published version of both Lord of the Rings and the Silmarillion. While Tolkien’s later writings explore Isildur, they don’t really mess with Sauron’s abandonment of his body.

But in a 1957 letter (No. 200), written three years after Fellowship of the Rings was published, Tolkien had explained that Sauron was “always de-bodied when vanquished.” He was, originally, spirit, but like any Maiar, he had the ability to take a body.

“They were thus in the world, but not of a kind whose essential nature is to be physically incarnate. They were self-incarnated, if they wished; but their incarnate forms were more analogous to our clothes than to our bodies, except that they were more than are clothes the expression of their desires, moods, wills and functions.”

He goes on to explain that the Maiar had a “pre-occupation” with Elves and Men, which is why many of them took a human-like form.

“It was thus that Sauron appeared in this shape. It is mythologically supposed that when this shape was ‘real’, that is a physical actuality in the physical world and not a vision transferred from mind to mind, it took some time to build up. It was then destructible like other physical organisms. But that of course did not destroy the spirit, nor dismiss it from the world to which it was bound until the end.”

This goes not just for Sauron, but any Maiar who took physical form, including Ganalf, Sarumon, etc. Their physical bodies were created by themselves (or given by the Valar), but could be destroyed – just as Gandalf’s was when he battled the Balrog.

Tolkien continues, explaining a bit more about Sauron specific case:

After the battle with Gilgalad and Elendil, Sauron took a long while to re-build, longer than he had done after the Downfall of Numenor (I suppose because the building-up used up some of the inherent energy of the spirit, which might be called ‘will’ or the effective link between the indestructible mind and being and the realization of its imagination).”

This doesn’t really answer the question whether Sauron willingly gave up his body or if it was completely destroyed. Either way, the battle clearly rendered his body useless or broken. If Sauron willingly left it, he did so because the only other option would have been to wait until he was forced to leave it.

A Few Notes
Every time I give a date for when Tolkien wrote something, I have to look it upon the the JRR Tolkien Companion and Guide by Scull & Hammond. I have no idea why I don’t just make my own timeline and refer back to that.

When I started writing this, I was really hoping that there would be more diversity in Tolkien’s writings about this. But sometimes subtle differences are more fun.

Camera: Polaroid Automatic 100  Film: Fuji FP-100C (reclaimed negative)

Camera: Polaroid Automatic 100
Film: Fuji FP-100C (reclaimed negative)

About the Photo
I guess when I think of someone leaving their body, I think of abandoned buildings. When a building is abandoned, it quickly falls apart. Just like when there’s no life left in the body, it quickly decomposes. This is, of course, along Route 66. In Arizona, I think.


  • Day 132
  • Miles today: 5
  • Miles thus far: 651 (197 from Rivendell)
  • 143 miles to the Doors of Moria
  • 270 miles to Lothlórien
  • 1,128 miles to Mt. Doom

Today’s stopping place in the narrative: Book II, Chapter 3. Marching south along the western foothills of the Misty Mountains. Seventh night out from Rivendell. January 5 – 6, 3019 TA. (map)