You Can’t Fight the Enemy with His Own Ring

Since today is a Saturday (and I’m taking tomorrow off), I thought it would be fun to hit up a few of Tolkien’s letters. The book The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien is an absolutely essential tool in the study of all things Middle-earth – especially Lord of the Rings.

We’re been talking a bit about Gandalf and I thought it would be fun to see what Tolkien had to say about him in his letter written before the publication of Lord of the Rings. Gandalf first appeared in The Hobbit and was created specifically for the book.

Shortly after the publication of The Hobbit on September 21, 1937, author Richard Hughes wrote to Tolkien with a million questions about the larger context of the narrative. He said that it was “one of the best stories for children,” but he was “afraid that certain parts of it would be too terrifying for bedside reading.” This was, he said, “a snag.”

In his reply (No. 17, sent via his publisher), Tolkien relates that another reader wanted to know “fuller details about Gandalf and the Necromancer.” Tolkien, however, recognized Hughes’ snag – “but that is dark – much too much…”

“I am afraid that snag appears in everything’ though actually the presence (even if only on the borders) of the terrible is, I believe, what give this imagined world its verisimilitude.”

Moving on, Tolkien mentioned him again in a note (yes, even his letters had footnotes), from a February 1939 letter (No. 33). By this time, he was well into writing Lord of the Rings – 300 of 500 manuscript pages, according to his own accounting.

Here he returned to the “readers young and old who clamoured for ‘more about the Necromancer.'” But the Necromancer, he replied “is not child’s play.” In the note accompanying this passage, he gives a veritable Robot Roll Call of who we might expect to find in this sequel to The Hobbit:

“Still there are more hobbits, far more of them and about them, in the new story. Gollum reappears, and Gandalf is to the fore: ‘dwarves’ come in; and though there is no dragon (so far) there is going to be a Giant; and the new and (very alarming) Ringwraiths are a feature. There ought to be things that people who liked the old mixture will find to have a similar taste.”

The “Giant” was, of course, Treebeard. Tolkien wrote this letter as he was still kicking around the idea that Treebeard would be evil.

But for the next five years, Gandalf went unmentioned in these letters. And when he was brought up again (No. 83), it came as a surprising allegory. In a letter to his son Christopher, he complained bitterly that while Hitler was a “vulgar and ignorant little cad,” there were many other such people “who don’t speak German, and who given the same chance would show most of the other Hitlerian characteristics.”

He wrote with disdain about articles in the paper “seriously advocating systematic exterminating of the entire German nation as the only proper course after military victory: because, if you please, they are rattlesnakes, and don’t know the difference between good and evil! (What of the writer?)”

In conclusion to this thought, he wrote: “It can’t be helped. You can’t fight the Enemy with his own Ring without turning into an Enemy; but unfortunately Gandalf’s wisdom seems long ago to have passed with him into the True West.”

A Few Notes

  • There are a few other references, of course. But those were mostly incidental and maybe not as interesting.
  • Also, the version of Letters that I use is a first edition and its index is incredibly bad. I really need to update my copy.
Camera: Tru-View (vintage Diana clone, circa 1970s) Film: Kodak Portra 400NC (expired 12/2005)

Camera: Tru-View (vintage Diana clone, circa 1970s)
Film: Kodak Portra 400NC (expired 12/2005)

About the Photo
I suppose that I’m going to have to get a few more photos having to do with war, huh? This is a Spanish-American War era cannon outside the courthouse in Mt. Vernon, Washington.


  • Day 144
  • Miles today: 5
  • Miles thus far: 711 (257 from Rivendell)
  • 83 miles to the Doors of Moria
  • 210 miles to Lothlórien
  • 1,068 miles to Mt. Doom

Today’s stopping place in the narrative: Book II, Chapter 3. Encamped along the western foothills of the Misty Mountains. 17th night out from Rivendell. January 9-10, 3019 TA. (map)

The Hero that Was No More (How Isildur Went Out Like a Chump)

Thanks to the Silmarillion‘s account of Isildur’s earlier life, we are shown that he was a defiant warrior for Good. He was rash, but not heedless. He was brave, cunning, and bold, but he was not reckless. He was noble and of noble blood, yet he wasn’t proud. He was, in every way imaginable, the perfect person to lead the exiled Numenoreans in their new life in Middle-earth.

That story was in the “Akallabeth”, the history of Numenor and its fall. It was continued in “Of the Rings of Power and the Third Age” – the final chapter in the Silmarillion. There, the account of the battle with Sauron is recounted, as is Isildur’s time after taking the Ring, including his death. As we’ll see, it’s quite a bit different than what either Elrond or Gandalf told. In fact, it’s a newer story, written after the Lord of the Rings was completed.

Since the story’s basic structure is probably well known (if not, go here to read it), we’ll be focusing more on the differences and additions.

Of course, the story of the time leading up to the battle is more fleshed out than Elrond’s telling, but that just makes sense. At the end of the seven-year siege, Sauron himself came out to give battle, “and he wrestled with Gil-galad and Elendil, and they both were slain, and the sword of Elendil broke under him as he fell.”

Sauron also fell, and with the remaining shard of Elendil’s sword, Isildur “cut the Ruling Ring from the hand of Sauron and took it for his own.” The wording is nearly identical with Elrond’s telling from Lord of the Rings.

The same is nearly true concerning Elrond’s and Cirdan’s urging for Isildur to destroy the Ring in Mt. Doom. “This I will have as weregild for my father’s death, and my brother’s.”

But the next line: “Was it not I that dealt the Enemy his death-blow?” is a new line, and changes things quite a bit. The Enemy was defeated, everyone could see that. But a “death” it was not. Sauron was not dead. His armies weren’t dead. In the Silmarillion, it’s said that “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.” Elrond, in Lord of the Rings puts it more succinctly: “Sauron was diminished, but not destroyed.”

One of Isildur’s more important qualities was his foresightedness. There’s really no reason (especially knowing that Sauron couldn’t be killed by losing a finger or a Ring) for him to think that the Dark Lord was dead. Being on the battlefield, he saw Mordor’s armies retreat, but they did not disintegrate. This was not a death-blow in any sense, and he should have known it. But that was hardly his concern now. Now, what mattered most was the Ring. He deserved it in payment for the death of his father and brother. But he also deserved it as a reward for vanquishing the Enemy.

In Elrond’s account, he immediately jumps to the time of Isildur’s death. Gandalf, however, in the “Shadow of the Past” chapter tells a bit more. “Isildur was marching north along the east banks of the River, and near the Gladden Fields he was waylaid by the Orcs of the Mountains, and almost all his folk were slain. He leaped into the water, but the Ring slipped form his finger as he swam, and the Orcs saw him and killed him with arrows.” (I go into this more here.)

In the Silmarillion version, both Gandalf’s and Elrond’s accounts are combined, plus there is even more added (including some from an early draft of Gandalf’s account).

As was stated in the scroll Isildur left in Gondor (and which Gandalf read at the Council of Elrond), he first stopped at Minas Anor (Minas Tirith) to plant the White Tree and install Meneldil as the ruler of the south. He then “bore away the Ring, to be an heirloom of his house.” This was also stated in the scroll.

So far, with a small exception (death-blow) the Silmarillion account is just a combination of the three accounts given in Lord of the Rings. So what gives? Well, here’s a bit of an expounding for you:

“But Isildur was overwhelmed by a host of Orcs that lay in wait in the Misty Mountains; and they descended upon him at unawares in his camp between the Greenwood and the Great River, nigh to Loeg Ningloron, the Gladden Fields, for he was heedless and set no guard, deeming that all his foes were overthrown.”

Here, we learn a bit more than he was just set upon by Orcs. First, the Orcs were lying in wait. They expected him to be coming along this path. How they knew he would isn’t mentioned, but there they were. Second, the typically foresighted Isildur was heedless, and set no guard. This is the first rule of setting up a military camp, even in times of peace – always set a guard. He was so convinced that he had dealt the Enemy a death-blow, and that Orcs would not be a problem at all anywhere anymore.

“There well nigh all his people were slain, and among them were his three elder sons…” In the Lord of the Rings, we learn that nearly everyone was killed, but this is the first time we heard about his three elder sons. We also learn that his wife and his youngest were back at Rivendell.

Then the Silmarillion slips into one of Tolkien’s old drafts (as discussed here): “Isildur himself escaped by by means of the Ring, for when he wore it he was invisible to all eyes; but the Orcs hunted him by scent and slot, until he came to the River and plunged in. There the Ring betrayed him and avenged its maker, for it slipped from his finger as he swam, and it was lost in the water.”

This passage, like the others, was a bit more fleshed out than the previous incarnations. Specifically, while the Ring had always been given a will, this time it was given a purpose – to avenge Sauron.

Also, while Gandalf told Frodo that Isildur was “waylaid by Orcs,” nobody mentioned that they were actually hunting him. They trapped him in his camp and the great hero had to escape by means of a magic invisibility ring. Escaping isn’t really that noble of a thing to do. Maybe it’s even cowardly. It could be argued that he was trying to protect the Ring, but that is not what’s in the Silmarillion. In fact, it’s not even implied. He was overwhelmed by a host of Orcs who killed all of his people, including his sons, and then escaped and was hunted.

The great Isildur was reduced to an animal being tracked by dogs. Once he was again visible, “the Orcs saw him as he laboured in the stream, and they shot him with many arrows, and that was his end.”

Isildur did not die like his father – fighting with Sauron. He didn’t die like his three sons, who no doubt fought the Orcs to the end (though we’re not told). He very potentially abandoned them. He was shot in the back while fleeing, while trudging and splashing through the water, burdened by his armor, as the tried to get away. He didn’t die a hero’s death. He died like a chump trying to get as far away from Mordor as he could.

And apart from an echoing of how Elendil’s broken sword came to Rivendell (three others survived and Isildur gave it to Ohtar his esquire), the story ends.

However, Tolkien must not have been fully satisfied with this version. In the late 1960s, he penned another, “Disaster in the Gladden Fields,” which we’ll talk about tomorrow.

A Few Notes

  • If the opening paragraph sounded familiar to you, I recycled it from yesterday’s post!
  • I can’t believe the Isildur posts are winding down! But tomorrow isn’t the last. I’ve got a special and fun surprise for you early next week!
Camera: Polaroid Big Swinger 3000 || Film: Fuji FP-3000B

Camera: Polaroid Big Swinger 3000 || Film: Fuji FP-3000B

About the Photo
This photo always reminds me of one of the old Civil War photos of a battlefield strewn with bodies. In reality, they’re gigantic boulders dragged and rafted to this location by glacial floods that closed out the last Ice Age, 15,000ish years ago. But look! You can even see the Eye of Sauron in the left center of the photo! Huzzah!


  • Day 126
  • Miles today: 5
  • Miles thus far: 631 (177 from Rivendell)
  • 290 miles to Lothlórien
  • 1,148 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 4 – 5, 3019 TA. (map)

The Dark Tower Still Stands?

Since it’s Sunday and the blog traffic goes way way down, I thought I’d make it a quick one with a passage or two (about Isildur) from Tolkien’s own letters. Let’s go!

In late 1951, Tolkien was hopeful that the Collins publishing house would release the Silmarillion in conjunction with Lord of the Rings. To prove his case that both needed to be published together, Tolkien wrote a 10,000 word letter that summarized both. This, of course, included Isildur, though briefly.

By 1951, all but the very final revisions were complete with Lord of the Rings. You couldn’t quite say that the version we have now was what existed three years before its publication in 1954, but you wouldn’t be too horribly far off.

Picking up after describing the fall of Numenor, Tolkien describes the very end of the Second Age.

“The Second Age ends with the Last Alliance (of Elves and Men), and the great siege of Mordor. It ends with the overthrow of Sauron and the destruction of the second visible incarnation of evil. But at a cost, and with one disastrous mistake. Gilgalad and Elendil are slain in the act of slaying Sauron. Isildur, Elendil’s son, cuts the ring from Sauron’s hand, and his power departs, and his spirit flees into the shadows. But the evil begins to work. Isildur claims the Ring as his own, as ‘the Weregild of his father’, and refuses to cast it into the Fire nearby. He marches away, but is drowned in the Great River, and the Ring is lost, passing out of all knowledge. But it is not unmade, and the Dark Tower built with its aid still stands, empty but not destroyed. So ends the Second Age with the coming of the Numenorean realms and the passing of the last kingship of the High Elves.”

It’s interesting to see that Tolkien summarized the tale pretty much the same way that Elrond did in the Council of Elrond.

One interesting thing is that in this letter, Tolkien claims that the Dark Tower “still stands.” That doesn’t jive with the published version, where it was destroyed, except for the foundation.

I tried looking through the early drafts, but I can’t really find when the story changed because I can’t really find references to the Dark Tower standing or falling after the siege. I did, however, find a note written around August 1939 about how the story might end, Tolkien jotted: “When the Ring melts Dark Tower falls or is buried in ash.”

This isn’t really conclusive, but might mean that since Isildur didn’t melt the Ring, the Dark Tower didn’t fall (in this early version). All I know is that by the time of publication (1954), the story went: “His Ring was lost but not unmade. The Dark Tower was broke, but its foundations were not removed; for they were made with the power of the Ring, and while it remains they will endure.”

So that’s kind of interesting for a Sunday, no?

Camera: Mamiya C3  Film: Kodak EktaChrome 64x (EPX) (expired 10/94)

Camera: Mamiya C3
Film: Kodak EktaChrome 64x (EPX) (expired 10/94)

About the Photo
Ruins! But not the foundations! This is Pecos Ruins in New Mexico. Nifty!


  • Day 122
  • Miles today: 5
  • Miles thus far: 611 (157 from Rivendell)
  • 310 miles to Lothlórien
  • 1,168 miles to Mt. Doom

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

‘It Has Lost My Favour’ – Tolkien Shall Not Pass

As our heroes pick their way across the Trollshaws in a rocky montage*, let’s take another look at what Tolkien was early on considering for his sequel to The Hobbit.

Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve delved into the very first drafts of the yet-untitled follow up to The Hobbit. In mid-December of 1937, Tolkien began on the manuscript. The Hobbit had just been released and was meeting with some pretty fine reviews. His publisher was pushing for a sequel and Tolkien agreed to comply. This drafting went on until early February, but that wasn’t all he was up to.

During this two month period, Tolkien also wrote a “Father Christmas” letter to his children. This was a tradition he had established where Father Christmas (basically Santa Claus) wrote to Christopher and Priscilla. While started by Father Christmas, it was finished by an elf named Ilbereth (!!!) with commentary by the North Polar Bear. I’ve never read these, but now I think I’m going to have to. There’s some speculation that the character of Gandalf was inspired by Father Christmas.

Additionally, Tolkien was researching his essay “On Fairy-Stories,” another piece that I’ve not yet read (I’m waiting for Verlyn Flieger’s edition of the expanded version of the piece to be released in August, though I have a copy of it in A Tolkien Miscellany, so there’s really no excuse at all.

But that still wasn’t everything. He had a talk on Anglo-Saxon poetry scheduled to give to the BBC, which he was in the process of revising through the early bits of January. There was also a lecture he gave on dragons at the University Museum at Oxford. During the talk, he showed slides of dinosaurs and his own drawings of dragons. We probably can’t know for sure, but I’m really hoping he shared a slide of Dimetrodon (seriously, doubleclick that).

20140315_093617

And then, in mid-January, the University term began. He lectured on Beowulf, Exodus (in Old English), as well as other Old Norse and Old English texts. It seems like he taught only on Tuesdays and Thursdays, but he was also supervising at least one individual student.

Tolkien also prepared a version of Farmer Giles of Ham to read at Worcester College. He was supposed to read a version of “On Fairy Stories,” but couldn’t complete it in time. But, as always, his heart was set on finishing the Silmarillion, which he continued to write while also composing the first chapter of the Hobbit sequel. By mid-December, he had finished a draft to the point where Turin runs away from Thingol’s court. Soon, he would begin a new draft of the Quenta Silmarillion, which would be called I·Eldanyárë (The History of the Elves). He would abandon both projects shortly thereafter.

This hectic schedule was normal for him. He translated and edited several works in Middle and Old English. Even his summer was booked with students coming from Belgium and Canada to study under him. So it can be clear that he wasn’t simply writing Lord of the Rings. Tolkien didn’t simply do anything.

Come July of 1938, seven months after starting the Hobbit sequel, Tolkien had gotten only to the third chapter. The month before, he expressed regret to his publisher, Stanley Unwin, that he couldn’t find time to write. That’s no huge surprise, really. But even for him, Tolkien wasn’t only writing the sequel, but overseeing a translation of Beowulf, which was running late

Unable to find a student that could do the work, Tolkien suggested that he do it, but as a sort of ghostwriter. On the same day he made this suggestion, he also confessed his inability to write what would become Lord of the Rings.

He lamented that The Hobbit was released the year previous as this year was too busy for him to focus on a sequel. He hoped, however, to have all this work as a researcher “wound up if possible by September.” Such work had “dried up invention.”

“The sequel to the Hobbit has remained where it stopped [end of third chapter]. It has lost my favour, and I have no idea what to do with it. For one thing the original Hobbit was never intended to have a sequel – Bilbo ‘remained very happy to the end of his days and those were extraordinarily long’: a sentence I find an almost insuperable obstacle to a satisfactory link.”

As he had before, Tolkien wrote that everything he could come up with about hobbits had already been used in the first book. A sequel, he feared, “will appear either ‘thinner’ or merely repetitional.”

While he would certainly be proved wrong about the ‘thinner’ part (both in girth and substance), he wasn’t too far off on the repetitional nature of Lord of the Rings compared to The Hobbit. To put it in more modern terms, compare Sam Raimi’s original Evil Dead with Evil Dead 2 (or even, dare I say, Breakin’ with Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo).

20140315_093541

Tolkien went on to say that he was “immensely amused by hobbits as such, and can contemplate them eating and making their rather fatuous jokes indefinitely: but I find that is not the case with even my most devoted ‘fans’ (such as Mr Lewis [that’s C.S. Lewis] and Rayner Unwin [the publisher’s son who complained that there was too much hobbit talk in the drafts he had been shown]).” C.S. Lewis thought that hobbits were amusing, but only in “unhobbitlike situations.”**

Despite C.S. Lewis’ maniacal blatherings, Tolkien had an even larger obstacle than unamusing hobbits.

“My mind on the ‘story’ side is really preoccupied with the ‘pure’ fairy stories or mythologies of the Silmarillion, into which even Mr. Baggins got dragged against my original will, and I do not think I shall be able to move much outside it – unless it is finished (and perhaps published) – which has a releasing effect.”

Maybe this was Tolkien’s way of trying to force his publisher’s hand to allow him to finish the Silmarillion before moving onto Lord of the Rings. But, as we know, that was never to be. It probably worked out about right. It could have been different, but it couldn’t have been better.

It would be another month and a half, which would include a doctor’s order to slow down lest he have a breakdown, until he would begin writing, picking up with what would later become “The Old Forest” chapter. He would add things already existing in his writing, like Tom Bombadil and the Barrow-wights, but wouldn’t dip into the Silmarillion material until a bit later. Trotter (prodo-Strider) would tell of Gilgalad, but he was only just invented a year or two before when writing The Fall of Numenor.

Does this mean that Tolkien was hesitant to include earlier Silmarillion material like Turin or the Valar? I’m not really sure about that. Maybe we’ll find out.

*As opposed to a Rocky montage.
**Shut up, Lewis.

A Few Notes

  • Did you watch the Doubleclicks video? Come on now. Let’s play along.
  • I was planning on writing a short, sort of throw-away post about the letter I quoted toward the end of the piece. But yeah, that didn’t happen.
  • Today marks Day 75 of my sweat to Mordor! I’ve ellipticaled 368 miles since January 1. That, of course, means that our hobbits have walked the same amount. That’s how this project works, you see.
  • And yes, dear pedants, I know that Gandalf actually said “You cannot pass” to the Balrog. (Also, I know that Dimetrodon wasn’t technically a dinosaur.)
Camera: Imperial Savoy || Film: Kodak Ektachrome 160 Tungsten (expired 12/1994)

Camera: Imperial Savoy || Film: Kodak Ektachrome 160 Tungsten (expired 12/1994)

About the Photo
This is as close as I can get to explaining how Tolkien’s mind worked. It’s the Bottle Forest along Route 66 in California.


  • Day 75
  • Miles today: 6
  • Miles thus far: 368
  • 92 miles to Rivendell
  • 1,411 miles to Mt. Doom

Today’s stopping place: Book I, Chapter 12. In the Trollshaws, across the River Hoarwell. (map)

The History, Language and People of Bree (Day 34)

Camera: Holga 120N Film: Kodak Porta 400

Camera: Holga 120N
Film: Kodak Porta 400

Led by their guide, Strider, our hobbits are still moving east through the woody Chetwood.

Thoughts on the Passage – Book I, Chapter 11 (p182, 50th Anniv. Ed.)
Once more faced with only a line or two about foliage, I turn back to Bree, this time focusing quickly upon its history.

Bree was a small village at the junction of the East Road and the Greenway. The Men who lived there at the time of the Lord of the Rings “claimed, no doubt justly, to have dwelt in those regions from time out of mind, long before the coming of Elendil….”

You’re going to need a map for some of this. Use this one.

This would place the founding of Bree at least 200 years before the end of the Second Age (over 3,200 years before our story). The Men of Bree, then, were not of Numenorian blood, even though their village was within the realm of Elendil’s kingdom (which included Arnor and Gondor). After Isledor’s death and the loss of the One Ring, the kingdom was split though relations were friendly. Eventually, over the course of eight centuries, Arnor and Gondor lost contact with each other.

In 861, Arnor was split into three separate kingdoms (while Gondor had a hell of a cat problem – look up Queen Beruthiel). Bree found itself in the one known as Cardolan (I explained a bit about this here). The problem was, of course, that Bree stood very close to the border of Rhudaur, the kingdom to the north. The Cardolans wanted the Weather Hills and the land west and north of Bree. Both wanted to control the Amon Sul (later known as Weathertop), also situated on the border, because of the tower built by Elendil. There resided the palantir of the North.

Bree survived the strife as well as it could, ignoring the politics and continuing on as a nearly autonomous village. That is, until 1409 when Cardolan was conquered by the Nazgul out of Angmar. They had been slowly steamrolling from the north for over 100 years, first taking out Rhudaur. This was also when Amon Sul/Weathertop was destroyed.

Even through this, Tolkien writes that “The Men of Bree and the Periannath of the same region maintain their independence.” The Periannath are the Hobbits, who settled in and around Bree around 1300. They came from the East, from the Vales of Anduin. For three hundred years, the bulk of the Hobbits lived in a Bree suburb known as Staddle.

Since the war with the Nazgul, as well as the Great Plague, had killed most everyone in Cardolan and Rhudaur, Bree existed on its own, having no central system of government. In this way, without the silliness of politics, it continued even after the Hobbits left to establish the Shire, technically under the control of King Argeleb II of Arnor. The land had become a wilderness due to the plague and was unused until recreated by the Hobbits. It was also at this time that Shire-reckoning began.

In the year 1601, two Hobbit brothers, Marcho and Blanco, crossed the Brandywine (Baranduin) River, thus establishing 1601 as year 1 (it’s convenient to have a round number for the differential). Because Bree had no central system of government, the calendar used by Arnor and Gondor, etc., probably fell out of fashion and use. Shortly after, Bree adopted most the Shire-reckoning. This certainly helped keep Hobbits within Bree and was essential to establishing trade with the Shire. The adoption included the months and days, given in the Common Speech, but not the years, which were continued from 1601 onwards.

Bree shared with the Shire a common language – the aforementioned Common Speech – but neither originally spoke it. Things around Bree were named from a much older language. This included the name “Bree,” which meant “hill,” as well as “Chet,” (as in Chetwood and Archet), which meant “forest.” With the coming of the Men from Numenor, they eventually adopted Common Speech.

A similar thing happened to the Hobbits, who adopted the language as soon as they crossed the Misty Mountains into Eriador (after they left the Vales of Anduin). Prior to that, they spoke a language very similar to that of Rohan. In fact, the word “hobbit” was derived from “holbytla,” which meant “hole dweller.” Tolkien later (?) changed the origin to the word “cugbagu,” still maintaining that it came form Rohan.

And as far as I can tell, this brings us to the “present day,” 3018 TA or 1418 in the Shire-reckoning.

A Few Notes:

  • Most of this information comes from the Tale of Years as well as the book The People of Middle-Earth edited by Christopher Tolkien. This is an incredibly wonderful book that details the background writings to the smaller details like calendars, languages, family trees, peoples, and bits from the Appendix A. It also contains Tolkien’s some of the last writings about Middle-earth.
  • Tolkien made it a point to not name his characters after Biblical names. There was, for a short time, one exception – that of Barliman Butterbur, who was originally named Barnabas Butterbur (Barnabas wasn’t just a vampire, he was also one of Jesus’ disciples). Tolkien tells why: “On an old grey stone in a quiet churchyard in southern England, I once saw in large letters the name Barnabas Butter. That was long ago and before I had seen the Red Book, but the name came back to me when the character of the stout innkeeper of Bree was presented to me in Frodo’s record.”
  • Tolkien also explained the origins of he word “hobbit” from a real life point of view: “For another, I must admit that its [“hobbit”] faint suggestion of rabbit appealed to me. Not that hobbits at all resembled rabbits, unless it be in burrowing.”
  • Though Bilbo and the Dwarves had to have traveled through Bree, neither the town nor the event were mentioned in either the first or second edition of The Hobbit. When Tolkien attempted to rewrite it 1960, after writing Lord of the Rings (in an attempt to fit The Hobbit more perfectly into the larger story, he did mention that they stayed at the Prancing Pony in Bree, saying that it was “as far as Bilbo’s knowledge reached, even by hearsay.” The town is really only mentioned in passing. (The text is available in John Rateliff’s The History of the Hobbit.)

About the Photo
I don’t take many photographs of towns, so it’s not incredibly easy to find something that reminds me of Bree, though I’ve been through many towns that remind me of Bree. Note to self: take more photos of towns.

Thoughts on the Exercising
It’s getting easier. It’s getting easier. If I keep telling myself that, it’ll get easier. Right? Hell. But really, it’s getting easier, but I’m not letting it get too easy. I push myself more and more each day (you know, sort of), so if it’s not actually getting easier, I’m getting into better shape. Also, my heart is going to explode.


  • Miles today: 5
  • Miles thus far: 160
  • 54 miles to Weathertop
  • 300 miles to Rivendell
  • 1,619 miles to Mt. Doom

Today’s stopping place: Still somewhere in the beautiful Chetwood. (map)

What Can Bring Tom Bombadil Down? (Day 27)

Camera: Mamiya C3 Film: Kodak Ektachrome 64x; expired 10/96; x-pro

Camera: Mamiya C3
Film: Kodak Ektachrome 64x; expired 10/96; x-pro

Tom Bombadil and our hobbits ride west and then north toward the East Road. As they cross an old dike, Tom grows quiet and seems to be thinking about something sad.

Thoughts on the Passage – Book I, Chapter 8 (p146-7, 50th Anniv. Ed.)
Another incredibly short passage, but this one shows a sense of history that could keep me researching for hours. Before the hobbits were trapped by the Barrow-wights, they saw a line of trees that they assumed was the East Road (the main road through the Shire and to Bree and beyond). It was, however, not the Road, but “a deep dike with a steep wall on the further side.”

These types of dikes were prevalent in England, denoting boundaries or established for defense. And so it was with this dike. Tom explains (through the narrator) that “it had once been the boundary of a kingdom, but a very long time ago.”

And it was. This was once the border of the kingdom of Arnor, founded at the end of the Second Age (it’s the end of the Third Age at this point in the story, 3018). It was founded, along with Gondor, by those who escaped the destruction of Numenor.

(At this point, you’re going to need a map. Here’s one that might work.)

For some 860ish years, Arnor was one kingdom, but after the king died, his three sons started a civil war which resulted in Arnor being divided into three separate kingdoms: Arthedain, Rhudaur, and Cardolan. It is the border of Arthedain and Cardolan which Tom and the hobbits come across. Cardolan was the southern portion, with its northern border along the East Road. All three kingdoms met at Weathertop.

From roughly 861 till roughly 1300 (it was in 1100 when Gandalf, etc discovered the Necromancer in Dol Guldur, by the way), there was relative peace between the three separate kingdoms. But it was then that the Witch-king established Angmar, to the north of old Arnor, but still its influences could be felt even in southern-most Cardolan. This was when the orcs began to attack the Dwarves in the Misty Mountains. But it was also around this time (1300ish) that the Periannath (the ‘halflings/hobbits’) come west to live in Bree, itself on the border between Cardolan and Arthedain.

Around 1350, the king of Arthedain, Argeleb I, claimed rule over all of Arnor, as he was supposedly the only true air in the line from Isildur. While Cardolan seemed cool with this, Rhudaur did not and actually sided with Angmar and the Witch-king. On their own, Rhudaur went to war with the new and slightly smaller Arnor, killing King Argeleb I. In turn, his son pushed back, driving the troops from Rhudaur away from Weathertop.

About 50 years later, the Witch-king attacked, combining his own forces with those from Rhudaur, capturing Weathertop and King Argeleb’s son (now the king, himself) was killed. It was at the Barrow-downs and in the Old Forest where the last few of the Dunedain made their stand. This is when the dike crossed by Tom and the Hobbits was probably built. It was, at least, used during these battles. The last person was buried in the Barrow-downs in 1409.

Eventually, the Witch-king’s armies were stopped by Elrond’s forces from Rivendell, but most of Arnor, including Cardolan, was completely gutted by the enemy. But it was around this time (1601) that the hobbits migrate farther west into the Shire, in what was once Arthedain. This makes 1601 actually Year 1 in the ‘Shire reckoning’.

But 35 years late came the Great Plague, which killed pretty much everybody still living around the Barrow-downs. It was then that the Barrow-wights were sent by the Witch-king to occupy the land. For a short while, the kingdom of Arthedain, mostly unaffected by the plague, retook the Barrow-downs area, but nobody really wanted to live there (what with the wights and all). With nobody to defend it, the Witch-king once more took over the land.

For the next couple of centuries, Arnor continued to reestablish itself, even communicating with Gondor to the south in 1940. But thirty years later, the Witch-king attacked again, this time overrunning all of Arthedain, putting an end to Arnor. The next year, however, he is defeated at Fornost (northwest of Weathertop), and driven away. Five years later, he winds up in Mordor.

At this point, the action moved east, centering around Mordor and Moria. The land that used to be Arnor became sparsely populated, watched over by the Dunedain, the Rangers. For about 1,000 years it went on line this, until our story begins.

So there’s a bit of history, taken mostly from Appendix A and the Tale of Years, both contained in the Lord of the Rings. All this information is there, if you’re up to reading that kind of stuff.

And that’s what made Tom Bombadil seem kind of down for a few seconds.

About the Photo
Since we’re talking about borders, here’s a shot of an old customs sign that once stood between the border of Canada and the United States in Molson, Washington – a fine little ghost town. I don’t have my passport (yet?), so within these borders I must stay. For now anyway.

Thoughts on the Exercising
Maybe it’s just Monday, but I’m feeling laaaaaaaaaaaaaaazy! Did five miles, but it was despite my laziness. I feel about the same, and did it at around the same speed as I normally do. I don’t have a whole lot to say about this today. Huzzah!


  • Miles today: 5
  • Miles thus far: 125
    • 10 miles to Bree
    • 89 miles to Weathertop
    • 335 miles to Rivendell
    • 1,654 miles to Mt. Doom

Today’s stopping place: Still moving north toward the East Road (map)