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Subject: Tolkien: Frequently Asked Questions (2/2)
This article was archived around: 07 May 2006 04:18:06 GMT
Posting Frequency: 28 days
Last Updated: 1994/03/28
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7) Was the northwest of Middle-earth, where the story took place, meant
to actually be Europe?
Yes, but a qualified yes. There is no question that Tolkien had
northwestern Europe in mind when he described the terrain, weather,
flora, and landscapes of Middle-earth. This was no doubt partially
because NW Europe was his home and therefore most familiar to him and
partially because of his love for the "Northern tradition". As he
said himself: "The North-west of Europe, where I (and most of my
ancestors) have lived, has my affection, as a man's home should. I
love its atmosphere, and know more of its histories and languages than
I do of other parts; ..." (Letters 376 (#294)). Thus, the environment
of Middle-earth will seem familiar to dwellers of that region of
Europe (see the second letter excerpted in FAQ, Tolkien, 6 (#183)).
However, the geographies simply don't match. This was the result
not so much of a deliberate decision on Tolkien's part to have things
so but rather a side-effect of the history of the composition: the
question did not occur to him until the story was too far advanced and
the map too fixed to allow much alteration:
... if it were 'history', it would be difficult to fit the lands and
events (or 'cultures') into such evidence as we possess, archaeo-
logical or geological, concerning the nearer or remoter part of what
is now called Europe; though the Shire, for instance, is expressly
stated to have been in this region [FR, 11]. I could have fitted
things in with greater versimilitude, if the story had not become
too far developed, before the question ever occurred to me. I doubt
if there would have been much gain; ...
Letters, 283 (#211)
... As for the shape of the world of the Third Age, I am afraid that
was devised 'dramatically' rather than geologically, or paleonto-
logically. I do sometimes wish that I had made some sort of agree-
ment between the imaginations or theories of the geologists and my
map a little more possible. But that would only have made more
trouble with human history.
Letters, 224 (#169)
The remark that there probably would not "have been much gain" is
characteristic and perhaps indicates Tolkien's own approach, which
would seem to have been to focus on the environmental familiarity at
the "local" level (in the sense that any particular scene might have
come from somewhere in Europe) and to simply overlook the lack of
"global" identity. On the other hand, he made some attempt to address
the difficulty in the quote from the Prologue (FR, 11), where it was
said: "Those days, the Third Age of Middle-earth, are now long past,
and the shape of all lands has been changed...". The conclusion is
that it is a matter for each individual reader as to how important is
the lack of geographical fit and where one comes down on the continuum
between "Middle-earth was northwestern Europe" and "Middle-earth might
as well have been northwestern Europe" (or, as Tolkien might have
said, "Middle-earth 'imaginatively' was northwestern Europe"). [Thus,
recent attempts to force the M-e map to fit the map of the Eurasian
land mass, such as in _Tolkien: The Illustrated Encyclopedia_ by David
Day, should be discounted.]
In one letter he provided indications to help in visualizing the
circumstances of various locales, but this does not help in resolving
the above matter, since again northwestern Europe was used for
comparison rather than equation:
The action of the story takes place in the North-west of 'Middle-
earth', equivalent in latitude to the coastlands of Europe and the
north shores of the Mediterranean. ... If Hobbiton and Rivendell
are taken (as intended) to be at about the latitude of Oxford, then
Minas Tirith, 600 miles south, is at about the latitude of Florence.
The Mouths of Anduin and the ancient city of Pelargir are at about
the latitude of ancient Troy.
Letters, 375-376 (#294)
References: FR, 11 (Prologue);
Letters, 376 (#294), 239 (#183), 283 (#211), 224 (#169).
Contributors: WDBL, Carl F. Hostetter
8) Was the Shire meant to be England?
In this case, the balance between "actually *was*" and "was based
upon" is entirely tipped towards the latter. There is no hint that
the Shire was in any sense supposed the be the country now called
England in an ancient state. On the other hand, there is plainly a
very strong resemblance between the Shire and the rural England of
about a century ago.
More precisely, the Shire plainly could not *be* England in any
literal sense: England is an island, and even changes in "the shape of
all lands" (FR, 11) is insufficient to explain such a discrepancy
(especially since even the westernmost part of the Shire was some 200
miles from the Sea). Nevertheless, the Shire was more exactly based
on England than any other part of Middle-earth was based on any part
of our world: the climate, place-names, flora and fauna, terrain,
food, customs, and the inhabitants themselves, were all English. In
effect the Shire was an idealized version of the rural England of
Tolkien's childhood. Some of his comments on the matter were:
[The Shire] is in fact more or less a Warwickshire village of about
the period of the Diamond Jubilee ...
Letters, 230 (#178)
But, of course, if we drop the 'fiction' of long ago, 'The Shire' is
based on rural England and not any other country in the world...
[Later in the same letter he implied that the Shire was "an imag-
inary mirror" of England.]
Letters, 250 (#190)
There is no special reference to England in the 'Shire' -- except
of course that as an Englishman brought up in an 'almost rural'
village of Warwickshire on the edge of the prosperous bourgeoisie of
Birmingham (about the time of the Diamond Jubilee!) I take my models
like anyone else -- from such 'life' as I know.
Letters, 235 (#181)
See also RtMe 31-33 for a fascinating suggestion that certain compo-
nents of Tolkien's early philological studies may have contributed to
his later conception of the Shire. Shippey has also suggested that
Tolkien's motivation in changing Gandalf's supper request in ch 1 of
_The Hobbit_ from "cold chicken and tomatoes" in the first edition to
"cold chicken and pickles" in the revised edition was linguistic: that
to Tolkien's extraordinarily sensitive ear "tomato" sounded out of
place in a country that was a mirror of English, since tomato only
entered the language in the sixteenth century and moreover originally
came from some Caribbean language. Likewise, tobacco, used in _The
Hobbit_, was changed to "pipeweed", and "potatos" were usually spoken
of only by Sam, who called them "taters" (RtMe, 53-54; Annotated
* * *
Finally, great care must be taken not to confound the idea of the
Shire's having been based on England with a concept found in Tolkien's
earliest writings, that Tol Eressea (Elvenhome) eventually *became*
England. This appeared during his early work on the Book of Lost
Tales (which eventually evolved into the Silm). Very probably it had
been supplanted even before he stopped work on the Lost Tales (1920)
(BoLT I, 22-27). In any case, it had long since been abandoned by the
time LoTR was begun in 1937, and plays no part in the 'history' of
Middle-earth as presented in LotR, Silm, _The Hobbit_, etc.
References: FR, 11 (Prologue);
Letters, 230 (#178), 235 (#181), 250 (#190);
RtMe, 31-33 (2, "Survivals in the West"),
53-54 (3, "Creative anachronisms");
BoLT I, 22-27 (I, "Commentary on _The Cottage of
Annotated Hobbit, 19 (ch 1, note 7).
Contributors: WDBL, Wayne Hammond Jr, Bill Taylor
9) What were the changes made to _The Hobbit_ after _The Lord of the
Rings_ was written, and what motivated them? [This question refers to
the major revisions made to the Gollum chapter, "Riddles in the Dark",
not to the multitude of minor changes made elsewhere.]
In the original 1937 edition of _The Hobbit_ Gollum was genuinely
willing to bet his ring on the riddle game, the deal being that Bilbo
would receive a "present" if he won. Gollum in fact was dismayed when
he couldn't keep his promise because the ring was missing. He showed
Bilbo the way out as an alternative, and they parted courteously.
As the writing of LotR progressed the nature of the Ring changed.
No longer a "convenient magical device", it had become an irresistable
power object, and Gollum's behavior now seemed inexplicable, indeed,
impossible. In the rough drafts of the "Shadow of the Past" chapter
Gandalf was made to perform much squirming in an attempt to make it
appear credible, not wholly successfully.
Tolkien resolved the difficulty by re-writing the chapter into its
present form, in which Gollum had no intention whatsoever of giving up
the Ring but rather would show Bilbo the way out if he lost. Also,
Gollum was made far more wretched, as befitted one enslaved and tor-
mented by the Ruling Ring. At the same time, however, Bilbo's claim
to the Ring was seriously undercut.
[ Care must be taken when noting this last point. There are two
issues involved, well summarized in the Prologue: "The Authorities, it
is true, differ whether this last question was a mere 'question' and
not a 'riddle' ... but all agree that, after accepting it and trying
to guess the answer, Gollum was bound by his promise" (FR, 21). Thus,
it was Bilbo's winning of the game that was questionable. Given that
he had in fact won, albeit on a technicality, he was fully entitled to
the prize, which, in the old version, was the ring. In the new
version, however, he had no claim to the Ring at all, whether he had
won or not, because the Ring was not the stake of the game. ]
The textual situation thus reached was that there now existed two
versions of the episode. Tolkien deftly made this circumstance part
of the story by suggesting that the first time around **Bilbo was
lying** (under the influence of the Ring) to strengthen his claim.
(Bilbo had written this version in his diary, which was "translated"
by Tolkien and published as "The Hobbit"; hence the error in the early
editions, later "corrected".) This new sequence of events inside the
story is laid out clearly in "Of the Finding of the Ring" (Prologue)
and is taken for granted thereafter for the rest of the story (e.g. in
"The Shadow of the Past" and at the Council of Elrond).
_The Hobbit_ as now presented fits the new scenario remarkably
well, even though Tolkien, for quite sound literary reasons, left this
entire matter of Bilbo's dishonesty out (it was an entirely irrelevant
complication which would have thrown everything out of balance). The
present attempt to step back and view the entire picture is made more
involved by the fact that there were two separate pieces of dishonesty
perpetrated by Bilbo.
The first, made explicit, was that when he initially told his
story to Gandalf and the Dwarves he left the ring out entirely -- this
no doubt was what inspired Gandalf to give Bilbo the "queer look from
under his bushy eyebrows" (H, 99). Later, (after the spider episode)
he revealed that he had the Ring, and it must have been at this point
that he invented the rigamarole about "winning a present" (an incred-
ible action, given the circumstances). There is, however, no hint in
the text of this second piece of dishonesty (as noted above, it would
have been a grave literary mistake). Readers are therefore given no
indication that when "Balin ... insisted on having the Gollum story
... told all over again, with the ring in its proper place" (H, 163)
that Bilbo didn't respond with the "true" story, exactly as described
in Ch V. In this regard, "Of the Finding of the Ring" in the Prologue
is a necessary prelude to LotR.
References: Hobbit, 99 (Ch VI), 163 (Ch VIII),
"Riddles in the Dark" (Ch V);
Annotated Hobbit, 104 (Ch VI, note 2), 176 (Ch VIII,
note 11), 325-327 (Appendix A: the original
version is given here);
FR, "Of the Finding of the Ring" (Prologue);
Biography, 203 (V, 2);
RtMe, 59-60 (3, "The Ring as 'Equalizer'");
The Return of the Shadow (HoMe VI), 75, 79-81, 84-87
(First Phase, III), 261-265 (Second Phase, XV).
Contributors: WDBL, Wayne Hammond Jr
1) Were Hobbits a sub-group of Humans?
Yes, beyond question. There were three statements to this effect.
The first, from the Prologue, is probably less definite because it was
intended to be the editor speaking.
It is plain indeed that in spite of later estrangement Hobbits
are relatives of ours: far nearer to us than Elves, or even than
Dwarves. Of old they spoke the languages of Men, after their own
fashion, and liked and disliked much the same things as Men did.
But what exactly our relationship is can no longer be discovered.
The beginning of Hobbits lies far back in the Elder Days that are
now lost and forgotten.
FR, 11 (Prologue)
The Hobbits are, of course, really meant to be a branch of the
specifically *human* race (not Elves or Dwarves) -- hence the two
kinds can dwell together (as at Bree), and are called just the Big
Folk and Little Folk. They are entirely without non-human powers,
but are represented as being more in touch with 'nature' (the soil
and other living things, plants and animals), and abnormally, for
humans, free from ambition or greed of wealth.
Letters, 158 (footnote) (#131)
Firstborn, The. Title of the Elves. Translate. ('Firstborn',
since the Elves appeared in the world before all other 'speaking
peoples', not only Men, but also Dwarves, of independent origin.
Hobbits are of course meant to be a special variety of the human
Guide, entry for "The Firstborn"
References: FR, 11 (Prologue, "On Hobbits");
Letters, 158 (footnote) (#131);
Guide, entry for "The Firstborn".
Contributors: WDBL, Paul Adams
2) Did Hobbits have pointed ears?
Only slightly. Tolkien described Bilbo thusly for purposes of
illustration in a letter to Houghton Mifflin (c. 1938):
I picture a fairly human figure, not a kind of 'fairy' rabbit as
some of my British reviewers seem to fancy: fattish in the stomach,
shortish in the leg. A round, jovial face; ears only slightly
pointed and 'elvish'; hair short and curling (brown). The feet
from the ankles down, covered with brown hairy fur. Clothing: green
velvet breeches; red or yellow waistcoat; brown or green jacket;
gold (or brass) buttons; a dark green hood and cloak (belonging to
Letters, 35 (#27)
The Annotated Hobbit cites this letter and includes a reasonable
illustration based upon it. [Note that Tolkien's use of the word
"elvish" here refers to the elfs of popular folklore, who were often
pictured with pointed ears. The Elves of Middle-earth (except for
the Silvan Elves in The Hobbit) were at the time of this letter known
to only a few people.]
References: Letters, 35 (#27);
Annotated Hobbit, 10 (Ch I, note 2).
3) When was Bilbo and Frodo's Birthday? To what date on our own
calendar does it correspond?
The date on the Shire calendar was September 22 (FR, 29). Both
the different definitions of the months and the different correlation
of their calendar with the seasons (the summer solstice fell on Mid-
year's Day, the day between June and July, not on June 21 as on our
calendar (RK, 388 -- Appendix D)) must be Taken into account. The
discrepancy in September is found to be 10 days, giving September 12
on our calendar as the equivalent date. (This result has some signi-
ficance for the story. Events occur ten days earlier in terms of the
seasons than the dates would suggest to us: when sleeping outdoors in
autumn, ten days can make a large difference.)
[In Appendix D Tolkien gives detailed information about long-term
inaccuracies in the Shire Reckoning, which they dealt with differently
than we do. Based on this, it is possible to conclude that the SR at
the time of the story had accumulated either two days or four days of
error, depending on how careful the Hobbits were about making long-
term corrections, which we aren't told. This result would make the
equivalent date either September 14 or September 16, but other consi-
derations raise questions about the accuracy of such calculations, so
September 12 is probably the most straightforward choice.]
References: FR, 29 (I,1);
RK, Appendix D.
Contributors: WDBL, Paul Adams
4) Was Gollum a hobbit?
Yes, beyond all doubt. Gandalf's opinion alone: "I guess they
were of hobbit-kind; akin to the fathers of the fathers of the Stoors"
(FR, 62) should be sufficient to settle this, but it is confirmed in
several other places. The Tale of Years (RK, Appendix B) has the
following entry for the year TA 2463: "About this time Deagol the
Stoor finds the One Ring, and is murdered by Smeagol." (RK, p. 368).
Since it was explained in the Prologue that Stoors were one of the
three branches of hobbits (FR, 12), it is clear that the compiler of
this entry, evidently either Merry and/or Pippin's heirs (FR, 24-25),
accepted this conclusion.
In "The Hunt for the Ring" (UT, Three, IV) it is told that Sauron
concluded from his interrogation of Gollum that Bilbo must have been
the same sort of creature (UT, 342) (indeed, Gandalf concluded the
same thing from his talks with Bilbo (FR, 63)). The following passing
reference shows that the author of "The Hunt for the Ring" accepts
Gollum's hobbit origin: "Ultimately indomitable [Gollum] was, except
by death, as Sauron guessed, both from his halfling nature, and from
a cause which Sauron did not fully comprehend ..." (UT, 337).
Perhaps Gandalf's archaic diction contributed to the uncertainty.
When a reader suggested that perhaps '(1) Smeagol's people were *not*
"of hobbit-kind" as suggested by Gandalf', Tolkien dismissed the
suggestion. He added:
With regard to (1) Gandalf certainly says at first 'I guess'
(FR, 62); but that is in accordance with his character and wisdom.
In more modern language he would have said 'I deduce', referring to
matters that had not come under his direct observation, but on which
he had formed a conclusion based on study. ...But he did not in fact
doubt his conclusion: 'It is true all the same, etc.' (FR, 63).
Letters, 289-290 (#214)
References: FR, 12, (Prologue), 24-25 (Prologue, "Note on the Shire
Records"), 62-63 (I,2);
RK, Appendix B;
UT, 337 (Three, IV, i), 342 (Three, IV, ii);
Letters, 289-290 (#214).
Contributors: WDBL, Craig Presson
1) Did Elves have pointed ears?
They were evidently somewhat pointed; more so that human ears, at
any rate. The only place this matter is addressed directly is in The
Etymologies, published in _The Lost Road_. There, the following two
entries for the element 'las' are given [Q == Quenya, N == Noldorin]:
Las (1) *lasse 'leaf': Q lasse, N lhass; Q lasselanta 'leaf-fall,
autumn', N lhasbelin (*lassekwelene), cf. Q Narquelion [ KWEL ].
Lhasgalen 'Greenleaf' (Gnome name of Laurelin). (Some think this
is related to the next and *lasse 'ear'. The Quendian ears were
more pointed and leaf-shaped than [human].)
Las (2) 'listen'. N lhaw 'ears' (of one person), old dual *lasu
-- whence singular lhewig. Q lar, lasta- 'listen'; lasta
'listening, hearing' -- Lastalaika 'sharp-ears', a name,
cf. N Lhathleg. N lhathron 'hearer, listener, eavesdropper'
( < *la(n)sro-ndo ) ; lhathro or lhathrando 'listen in,
(The Lost Road, 367)
Some have rejected the conclusion on the grounds that these entries
were written before LotR was begun and therefore may not apply to it.
It is thus significant that the element 'las' retained both its
meanings, as is shown by examples in LotR itself, such as Legolas
('Green leaf') (TT, 106, 154), 'lassi' (== "leaves") in Galadriel's
Lament (FR, 394), and Amon Lhaw (Hill of Hearing) (FR, 410).
References: FR, 394, (II, 8), 410 (II,9);
TT, 106 (III,5), 154 (III,8);
Letters, 282 (#211);
The Lost Road (HoMe V), 367 ("The Etymologies").
1) Did Dwarf women have beards?
It seems they did. In the note on Dwarf women in Appendix A it
It was said by Gimli that there are few dwarf-women, probably no
more than a third of the whole people. They seldom walk abroad
except at great need. They are in voice and appearance, and in garb
if they must go on a journey, so like to the dwarf-men that the eyes
and ears of other peoples cannot tell them apart.
RK, 360 (App A)
Since beards were part of the appearance, not the garb, of dwarf-men,
we must conclude that dwarf-women did in fact have beards.
The question has been raised as to whether all dwarf *men* neces-
sarily had beards (the above conclusion depends upon this premise).
Insofar as the matter was mentioned at all, it was shown through
either direct statements or casual references that at least Thorin,
Dwalin, Balin, Fili, Kili, Gloin, Bombur, and Gimli all definitely had
beards (Hobbit, 20-22, 159, 186, 198; FR, 240; RK, 148); it is natural
to assume that the others did as well. While no definite statement
about the beard status of dwarf-men in general was ever presented as a
matter of lore, a thought which reflects the assumed view was given to
Bilbo early in _The Hobbit_ : [as Bilbo rode along wearing Dwalin's
hood] "His only comfort was that he couldn't be mistaken for a dwarf,
as he had no beard." (Hobbit, 42) In any event, the notion of bearded
dwarves seems an assumption with fairly firm foundations.
References: Hobbit, 20-22 (Ch I), 42 (Ch II), 159 (Ch VIII),
186 (Ch X), 198 (Ch XI);
FR, 240 (II, 1);
RK, 148 (V, 9), 153 (V, 9), 360 (Appendix A, III).
Contributors: WDBL, Peter Hunt
1) Who were the Istari (Wizards)?
The Wizards were Maiar (spiritual beings of lower "rank" than the Valar)
sent to Middle-earth by the Valar in human form as Messengers to help in the
struggle against Sauron: the term "incarnate angel" is approximately correct.
Being incarnated limited their power, and intentionally so, because their
mission was to organize the resitance and to inspire the peoples of Middle-
earth to help themselves, not to do the job for them. Their main temptation,
then, was to try to speed up the process by dominating other free wills -- a
principle reason for their mission was to prevent such actions by Sauron.
It was said that there were Five Wizards in the Order, but only three
came into the story:
-- Saruman ('Man of Skill') the White
[Sindarin: Curunir ('Man of Skill'); Quenya: Curumo]
-- Gandalf ('Elf of the wand') the Grey (later the White)
[Sindarin: Mithrandir ('Grey Pilgrim'); Quenya: Olorin]
-- Radagast the Brown [Quenya: Aiwendel]
Gandalf was the only one who remained true to his missison, and in the end
succeeded in bringing about Sauron's defeat. He was also the keeper of the
Elven Ring Narya, the Red Ring (the Ring of Fire).
2) Of the Five Wizards, only three came into the story. Was anything known
about the other two?
Very little. No names given them in Middle-earth are recorded, just the
title Ithryn Luin, 'The Blue Wizards' (for they were clad in sea-blue) (their
names in Valinor were Alatar and Pallando). When the Istari first arrived in
Middle-earth, Saruman and the Blue Wizards journeyed into the east, but only
Saruman returned. The Essay on the Istari says: "whether they remained in
the East, pursuing there the purposes for which they were sent; or perished;
or as some hold were ensnared by Sauron and became his servants, is not not
known." (UT, p. 390)
Tolkien speaking as himself was only barely more explicit. In a letter
he said that he knew "nothing clearly" about the other two: 'I think they
went as emissaries to distant regions, East and South, far out of Numenorean
range: missionaries to enemy-occupied lands, as it were. What success they
had I do not know; but I fear that they failed, as Saruman did, though
doubtless in different ways; and I suspect they were founders or beginners
of secret cults and "magic" traditions that outlasted the fall of Sauron.'
(Letters, p. 280).
3) What happened to Radagast?
Radagast was said to also have failed his mission, but it's tempting to
think that his "failure" was not as bad as that of the others. The Essay on
the Istari: "Indeed, of all the Istari, one only remained faithful, and he
was the last-comer. For Radagast, the fourth, became enamoured of the many
beasts and birds that dwelt in Middle-earth, and forsook Elves and Men, and
spent his days among the wild creatures." (UT, p. 390)
Radagast certainly never became evil. The above quote suggests, however,
that his mission was not just to relate to wild creatures but also to build
bridges between them and Elves and Men. He did, in fact, have his friends
the birds gather much information, but since they were reporting to Saruman
as the head of the Council that wasn't altogether helpful. On the other
hand, it has often been suggested (though there is no direct textual evidence
of any kind) that the way Eagles kept showing up at opportune times may have
been partially his work.
We know nothing of what happened to Radagast after the end of the Third
Age. It seems conceivable, though, given the more ambiguous nature of his
failing, that he might have been allowed back to Valinor eventually.
1) What was the relationship between Orcs and Goblins?
They are different names for the same race of creatures. Of the two,
"Orc" is the correct one. This has been a matter of widespread debate and
misunderstanding, mostly resulting from the usage in _The Hobbit_ (Tolkien
had changed his mind about it by LotR but the confusion in the earlier book
was made worse by inconsistant backwards modifications). There are a couple
of statements in _The Hobbit_ which, if taken literally, suggest that Orcs
are a subset of goblins. If we are to believe the indications from all other
areas of Tolkien's writing, this is not correct. These are: some fairly
clear statements in letters, the evolution of his standard terminology (see
next paragraph), and the actual usage in LotR, all of which suggest that
"Orc" was the true name of the race. (The pedigrees in _Tolkien: The
Illustrated Encyclopedia_ are thoroughly innaccurate and undependable.)
What happened was this. The creatures so referred to were invented along
with the rest of Tolkien's subcreation during the writing of the Book of Lost
Tales (the "pre-Silmarillion"). His usage in the early writing is somewhat
varied but the movement is away from "goblin" and towards "orc". It was part
of a general trend away from the terminology of traditional folklore (he felt
that the familiar words would call up the wrong associations in the readers'
minds, since his creations were quite different in specific ways). For the
same general reasons he began calling the Deep Elves "Noldor" rather than
"Gnomes", and avoided "Faerie" altogether. (On the other hand, he was stuck
with "Wizards", an "imperfect" translation of Istari ('the Wise'), "Elves",
and "Dwarves"; he did say once that he would have preferred "dwarrow", which,
so he said, was more historically and linguistically correct, if he'd thought
of it in time ...)
In _The Hobbit_, which originally was unconnected with the Silmarillion,
he used the familiar term "goblin" for the benefit of modern readers. By the
time of LotR, however, he'd decided that "goblin" wouldn't do -- Orcs were
not storybook goblins (see above). (No doubt he also felt that "goblin",
being Romance-derived, had no place in a work based so much on Anglo-Saxon
and Northern traditions in general.) Thus, in LotR, the proper name of the
race is "Orcs" (capital "O"), and that name is found in the index along with
Ents, Men, etc., while "goblin" is not in the index at all. There are a
handful of examples of "goblin" being used (always with a small "g") but it
seems in these cases to be a kind of slang for Orcs.
Tolkien's explanation inside the story was that the "true" name of the
creatures was Orc (an anglicized version of Sindarin *Orch* , pl. *Yrch*).
As the "translator" of the ancient manuscripts, he "substituted" "Goblin" for
"Orch" when he translated Bilbo's diary, but for The Red Book he reverted to
a form of the ancient word.
[The actual source of the word "orc" is Beowulf: "orc-nass", translated
as "death-corpses". It has nothing to do with cetaceans.]
1) Who or what was Tom Bombadil?
This question has been a widely debated, sometimes far too vehemantly.
Part of the difficulty is the complexity of Tom's literary history. Tom was
originally a doll (with blue jacket and yellow boots) owned by Tolkien's son
Michael. The doll inspired a story fragment, such as he often invented for
his children's amusement. That fragment was in turn the basis for the poem
"The Adventures of Tom Bombadil", published in 1933, which also introduced
Goldberry, the barrow wights, and Old Man Willow (the poem was the source of
the events in Chapters 6 through 8 of Book I). In a contemporary letter
(1937) Tolkien explained that Tom was meant to represent 'the spirit of the
(vanishing) Oxford and Berkshire countryside'. (Letters, no 19)
Tolkien introduced Tom into LotR at a very early stage, when he still
thought of it as a sequel to _The Hobbit_, as opposed to _The Silmarillion_
(see LessFAQ, Tolkien, 1). Tom fit the original (slightly childish) tone of
the early chapters (which resembled that of _The Hobbit_), but as the story
progressed it became higher in tone and darker in nature. Tolkien later
claimed that he left Tom in he decided that however portrayed Tom provided
a necessary ingredient (see last paragraph). Some very cogent reasons are
produced in a couple of wonderful letters (Letters, nos 144 & 153).
As to Tom's nature, there are several schools of thought.
a) He was a Maia (the most common notion). The reasoning here is plain:
given the Middle-earth cast of characters as we know it, this is the most
convenient pigeonhole in which to place him (and Goldberry as well) (most
of the other individuals in LotR with "mysterious" origins: Gandalf,
Sauron, Wizards, and Balrogs did in fact turn out to be Maiar).
b) He was Iluvatar. The only support for this notion is on theological
grounds: some have interpreted Goldberry's statement to Frodo (F: "Who is
Tom Bombadil?" G: "He is.") as a form of the Christian "I am that am",
which really could suggest the Creator. Tolkien rejected this inter-
pretation quite firmly.
c) T.A. Shippey (in _The Road to Middle-earth_) and others have suggested
that Tom is a one-of-a-kind type. This notion received indirect support
from Tolkien himself: "As a story, I think it is good that there should
be a lot of things unexplained (especially if an explanation actually
exists); ... And even in a mythical Age there amust be some enigmas, as
there always are. Tom Bombadil is one (intentionally)." (Letters,
p. 174) There are scattered references to other entites which seem to
fall outside the usual picture.
Whichever of these is correct, Tom's function inside the story was evidently
to demonstrate a particular attitude towards control and power. "The story
is cast in terms of a good side, and a bad side, beauty against ruthless
ugliness, tyranny against kingship, moderated freedom against compulsion that
has long lost any object save mere power, and so on; but both sides in some
degree, conservative or destructive, want a measure of control. But if you
have, as it were taken 'a vow of poverty', renounced control, and take delight
in things for themselves without reference to yourself, watching, observing,
and to some extent knowing, then the question of the rights and wrongs of
power and control might become utterly meaningless to you, and the means of
power quite valueless." (_Letters_, p. 178). Tom represented "Botany and
Zoology (as sciences) and Poetry as opposed to Cattle-breeding and Agriculture
and practicality." (Letters, p. 179).
2) What became of the Entwives?
No definite answer was given to this question within the story.
However, Tolkien did comment on the matter in two letters, and while
he was careful to say "I think" and "I do not know", nevertheless the
tone of these comments was on the whole pessemistic. Moreover, he
doesn't seem to have changed his mind over time. The following was
written in 1954 (in fact before the publication of LotR):
What happened to them is not resolved in this book. ... I think that
in fact the Entwives had disappeared for good, being destroyed with
their gardens in the War of the Last Alliance (Second Age 3429-3441)
when Sauron pursued a scorched earth policy and burned their land
against the advance of the Allies down the Anduin. They survived
only in the 'agriculture' transmitted to Men (and Hobbits). Some,
of course, may have fled east, or even have become enslaved: tyrants
even in such tales must have an economic and agricultural background
to their soldiers and metal-workers. If any survived so, they would
indeed be far estranged from the Ents, and any rapprochement would
be difficult -- unless experience of industrialized and militarized
agriculture had made them a little more anarchic. I hope so. I
Letters, 179 (#144)
Note that the above reference to a "scorched earth policy" by Sauron
makes the destruction of the Entwives' land seem a much more serious
and deliberate affair than was apparent from the main story, in which
Treebeard merely said that "war had passed over it" (TT, 79 (III, 4)).
The following was written in 1972, the last year of Tolkien's life:
As for the Entwives: I do not know. ... But I think in TT, 80-81 it
is plain that there would be for the Ents no re-union in 'history'
-- but Ents and their wives being rational creatures would find some
'earthly paradise' until the end of this world: beyond which the
wisdom neither of Elves nor Ents could see. Though maybe they
shared the hope of Aragorn that they were 'not bound for ever to the
circles of the world and beyond them is more than memory.' ....
Letters, 419 (#338)
[ The reference to TT 80-81 is to the song of the Ent and the
Ent-wife, as recited to Merry and Pippin by Treebeard; the speech
by Aragorn which Tolkien quotes is from RK, 344 (Appendix A). ]
While the above comments do not sound hopeful, there nevertheless
remains the unresolved mystery of the conversation between Sam Gamgee
and Ted Sandyman in The Green Dragon. It took place during the second
chapter of FR and has been pointed to by many as possible evidence of
the Entwives' survival:
'All right', said Sam, laughing with the rest. 'But what about
these Tree-men, these giants, as you might call them? They do say
that one bigger than a tree was seen up away beyond the North Moors
not long back.'
'My cousin Hal for one. He works for Mr. Boffin at Overhill and
goes up to the Northfarthing for the hunting. He *saw* one.'
'Says he did, perhaps. Your Hal's always saying that he's seen
things; and maybe he sees things that ain't there.'
'But this one was as big as an elm tree, and walking -- walking
seven yards to a stride, if it was an inch.'
'Then I bet it wasn't an inch. What he saw *was* an elm tree,
as like as not.'
'But this one was *walking*, I tell you; and there ain't no elm
tree on the North Moors.'
'Then Hal can't have seen one', said Ted.
FR 53-54 (I, 2)
Now, this conversation takes place early in the story, when its
tone was still the "children's story" ambience of _The Hobbit_ (see
LessFAQ, Tolkien, 1). When it is first read the natural reaction is
to accept it as "more of the same" (i.e. another miscellaneous "fairy-
story" matter). However, once one has learned about the Ents it is
impossible to reread it without thinking of them. This impression is
strengthened by Treebeard's own words to Merry and Pippin:
He made them describe the Shire and its country over and over again.
He said an odd thing at this point. 'You never see any, hm, any
Ents round there, do you?' he asked. 'Well, not Ents, *Entwives* I
should really say.'
'*Entwives*?' said Pippin. 'Are they like you at all?'
'Yes, hm, well no: I do not really know now', said Treebeard
thoughtfully. 'But they would like your country, so I just
TT, 75 (III, 4)
Taken together, these two conversations make the notion that what
Halfast saw was an Entwife seem at least plausible. However, as far
as can be determined Tolkien never explicitly connected the matter
with the Entwives, indeed never mentioned it at all. So we are left
to speculate. (The fact that a creature described as being "as big as
an elm tree" couldn't be an Ent doesn't prove anything one way or the
other. It could indicate that the story is just a fabrication by a
fanciful hobbit, but it is equally possible that a fourteen foot tall
Ent might look gigantic to an unprepared hobbit and that the story was
exaggerated in the telling.)
Nor is textual analysis helpful. Tolkien himself, in a discussion
of his methods of invention, mentioned that the Treebeard adventure
was wholly unplanned until he came to that place in the story:
I have long ceased to *invent* ... : I wait till I seem to know what
really happened. Or till it writes itself. Thus, though I knew for
years that Frodo would run into a tree-adventure somewhere far down
the Great River, I have no recollection of inventing Ents. I came
at last to the point, and wrote the 'Treebeard' chapter without any
recollection of any previous thought: just as it now is. And then I
saw that, of course, it had not happened to Frodo at all.
Letters, 231 (#180)
The rough drafts in HoMe confirm that Sam and Ted's conversation
was composed long before Ents ever entered the story (Return of the
Shadow, 253-254; Treason, 411-414). Thus, Tolkien could not have had
them in mind when he wrote it, and it must indeed have originally been
a random, vaguely fantastic element. On the other hand, as he said of
Tom Bombadil, who also entered the story early: "I would not have left
him in if he did not have some kind of function." (Letters, 178) The
implication is clear: everything in the early chapters which was
allowed to remain was left in for a reason. When he did so with the
Sam/Ted conversation he must have known how suggestive it would be.
But how it fits in with the darker speculations expressed in his
letters is not clear (unless he changed his mind later).
This may be a case of Tolkien's emotions being in conflict with
his thoughts. T.A. Shippey has noted that "he was in minor matters
soft-hearted" (RtMe, 173). (Thus, Bill the pony escapes, Shadowfax
is allowed to go into the West with Gandalf, and in the late-written
narratives of UT Isildur is shown using the Ring far more reluctantly
than the Council of Elrond would suggest (UT, 271-285) and a way is
contrived so that Galadriel might be absolved from all guilt in the
crimes of Feanor (UT, 231-233)). It may be that, lover of trees that
he was, Tolkien wished to preserve at least the hope that the Ents
and Entwives might find each other and the race continue. But the
unwelcome conclusions from what he elsewhere called "the logic of the
story" must have proven inescapable.
References: Letters, 178-179 (# 144), 231 (#180), 419 (#338);
FR 53-54 (I, 2);
TT, 75 (III, 4), 79 (III, 4), 80-81 (III,4);
RK, 344 (Appendix A, I, v, "The Tale of Aragorn and Arwen");
UT, 271-285 (Three, I), 231-233 (Two, IV);
Return of the Shadow (HoMe VI), 253-254 (Second Phase, XV);
The Treason of Isengard, 411-414 (Ch XXII);
RtMe, 173 (7, "The Dangers of Going on").
Contributors: WDBL, Paul Adams, Mark Gordon