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Lord of the Rings FAQ: Answers for Simpletons (Like Me)

Every time I read a The Lord of the Rings FAQ, I’m more confused than when I started. The reason is Tolkien left a lot of notes and drafts and letters, all compiled into posthumous publications. And there’s no production company keeping tabs on what’s “canon” like Star Wars or Star Trek.

So I tried to make a comprehensive but “simple” FAQ compilation of the questions I still have or keep seeing. It’s for the everyman who’s not terribly interested in how many spines are on Morgoth’s crown.

But first, some term definitions.

Eru Ilúvatar = Ultimate God of Middle-earth, creator of all the Valar (other gods) and Maiar (demi-gods)
Valar = (Singular: “Vala”) Other gods, lower in rank to Eru Ilúvatar. Think of them as Greek gods. There’s a god of forests, god of water, etc.
Maiar = (Singular: “Maia”) Spirits to help the Valar shape the world. Think satyrs and nymphs and cherubs.
Ainur = The collective name for the Valar and Maiar.
Melkor = a Maia who learned dark magic and rebelled against his creator. Think Lucifer.
Morgoth = Another name for Melkor.
Istari = A Maia spirit reincarnated as an old man to aid the free men against Sauron. A.K.A. a Middle-Earth wizard
Valinor = The Undying Lands or The Grey Lands. This is where everyone sails off to at the end.
Arda = The planet this all takes place on.

Why do dwarves and elves hate each other in LOTR? - Quora

Why do the elves and dwarves hate each other?

If you saw The Hobbit, you might think it’s because, when Smaug invaded Mount Erebor, the dwarves asked the elves for help, and the elves turned their backs.

But it goes further. In the first age, elves and dwarves had mutual respect and collaborated on a few projects. Then an elf king named Thingol wanted some dwarves (from Nogrod) to combine the elves’ greatest treasure (the Simaril, which was a gem created by one of the first elves) and the Nauglamír (a fancy necklace Thingol had previously asked the dwarves to make).

When the work was done, it was considered the most beautiful thing on the planet. The dwarves of Nogrod got greedy and wouldn’t let it go. They claimed it was dwarf work and belonged to them.

Thingol went to Nogrod to get the Simiril/Nauglamír back but was killed. The elves slaughtered the dwarves in return, but two escaped. Those two told all the other dwarves what happened, which motivated them to war. The dwarves marched on one of the great Elven realms and sacked it, taking loads of good treasure.

But on the way back, the dwarves were ambushed by an army of elves and Ents. They took all their treasure and melted it, except for the Simiril/Nauglamír, which was given back to the elves.

It should also be noted that the elves and dwarves were created by different entities (elves by Eru Ilúvatar, dwarves by a Vala named Aulë) so there are some fundamental philosophical and value conflicts there as well.

So it’s not so much a racial thing as a deep-seated prejudice. Elves are immortal and dwarves like to hold grudges, so their memories are long. Elves believe dwarves can’t be trusted. Dwarves believe elves are arrogant and condescending.

Aragorn strider green duster Lord of the Rings LORT | Etsy in 2021 | Aragorn,  Lord of the rings, The hobbit

Who is Aragorn, really? Why is he so special?

Long ago, in the Second Age, a half-elf named Elros founded a kingdom called Númenor on the West coast. This kingdom lasted for 3,000 years and went through many land shifts. Eventually, the original kingdom was destroyed, but its offshoot kingdoms of Gondor and Arnor remained.

One thousand years before The Lord of the Rings takes place, the royal bloodline died out. Gondor had stewards to hold the throne until the king returned (see below question). But Arnor did not and was destroyed. Its people became reduced to a wandering race of humans called “Númenóreans” or “Dúnedain”. Their leader is called the “chieftain”. This is who Aragorn is.

Aragorn’s father was killed helping Elrond’s sons fight some orcs. That means Aragorn is the last surviving heir of the royal bloodline.

He lived to be 210 years old since he’s 9/16th elf.

Why is Denethor the steward after all this time? Why didn’t they start over or crown a new king?

In Gondor, the last true king (see the question above) died out a thousand years ago, leaving a series of stewards to “hold the throne” until one comes back.

Even though it sure seems like no king is coming back, the people of Gondor do not accept that. The last king of Arnor tried to take over when his kingdom was destroyed, but Gondor rejected him.

Here's Why the Eagles Didn't Take the One Ring to Mordor | Geek and Sundry

What’s with the eagles? Why didn’t they take the eagles to Mordor?

Could the eagles have made things easier for our heroes? Yes. Did they want to? No.

Here are the reasons:

1) The eagles are not a taxi service. They can’t be summoned with a snap of the fingers. They serve the leader of the Valar. Gandalf is only a Maia–a demi-god incarnated into an old man–so it would be like the mayor of New York calling on the president’s secret service.

2) Giant eagles, especially ones carrying a humanoid, make a juicy target for orcs with bows and Ringwraiths riding “fellbeasts”. The affairs of men aren’t worth putting yourself at risk when you serve gods. Plus it’s not exactly secret if you’re flying the One Ring where everyone can see you. It would be a suicide mission. The eagles are already doing spying work on goblins and such for the elves and Valar.

3) Even if the Eagles could somehow get the One Ring to Mount Doom, they can’t physically get it into its fires to destroy it. It’s a mountain, not a volcano. You can’t just do an Operation Dumbo Drop. It has to be the exact spot where the One Ring was forged, and that’s only accessible through a fissure in the side of the mountain. Leaving it there for someone else to pick up is not a good answer. (And all that’s without factoring in being corrupted by the One Ring.)

4) The eagles don’t have a side in this war. Imagine North Dakota is fighting South Dakota. Do you think the U.N. cares what’s going on or is going to do anything about it? The eagle that rescued Gandalf from Saruman’s tower did so as a personal favor (Gandalf previously saved his life).

That said, the movies do make them appear to be a deus ex machina. They show up to save Gandalf from Saruman’s Tower (that makes some sense since he’s partially divine). Then they help in the Battle of Black Gate AND rescue Frodo and Sam from Mount Doom (but that’s only after Sauron is 100% defeated and no longer a threat). Plus they rescue the dwarves & Bilbo from Azog and the wargs (when they’re trapped in the trees) at the end of the first The Hobbit movie and carry them about halfway to the Lonely Mountain. Then their reinforcements arrive at The Battle of the Five Armies.

D&D: Fireball Is The Best Spell Whatever Your Edition - Bell of Lost Souls

If Gandalf is a wizard, why doesn’t he ever use his magic? Like cast a fireball at the orcs?

All the wizards are Istari (see vocab) whose mission is to protect the free men and let them know their gods haven’t forgotten them. Problem is only five Maiar volunteered/were drafted for this.

Part of their mission means they can’t dominate the will of men or match Sauron power-for-power. If they do, their powers and the memory of Undying Lands would wane. But they can use magic on other magic beings (e.g. a balrog, Ringwraiths, etc.) Saruman breaks this rule and he pays for it.

Why did Gandalf care about getting a bunch of dwarves back their treasure?

He didn’t. What he wanted was to keep Sauron out of the mountain by getting rid of Smaug (who might have formed an alliance with Sauron). Erebor’s (a.k.a. the Lonely Mountain) strategic location and treasure made it a good stronghold and would give him the ability to expand north. Thus an alliance with the dwarves to reestablish their fortification. Gandalf is good at getting the right people to the right place at the right time.

Why do elves risk dying in battle when they’re immortal?

Elves don’t really fear death, because when they die, they go to a sort of “purgatory” in Valinor that cleanses their spirit. Once that’s done, most choose not to return.

Death is still painful, so they do try and avoid it. But elves are reincarnated, so no big.

Subtle Accordions • filisleftmustachebraid: Concept art and designs... | Dwarven  city, Fantasy dwarf, Concept art

Where are all the other dwarves? Gimli’s the only one they could send? We see whole cities of elves, but where are the dwarves?

The dwarves are fighting Sauron’s army in their own lands, we just don’t see it. Sauron’s army is fighting on more than one front. You can read more details here.

What is the Second Age? What is the First Age?

There are four “Ages of Arda”. The First Age starts when the Children of Ilúvatar awake, starting with the elves, then the humans and dwarves. It lasts about 587 years.

The Second Age starts when Morgoth is overthrown and cast into the void by the Valar. It lasts 3,441 years, then ends when Sauron’s army is defeated (this is what you see in the movie when Sauron’s finger gets cut off).

So now the Third Age starts and lasts for 3,021 years until the One Ring is destroyed (and so is Sauron). At that point, the Fourth Age starts, also known as the “Age of Men” (since the elves have mostly gone to the Valinor at this time).

Why don’t they hide the One Ring instead of destroying it? Why not brick it in cement and drop it at the bottom of the ocean?

Destroying the One Ring is the only way to destroy Sauron. Even if the One Ring still exists, even if it’s inaccessible, there are still hordes and hordes of endless unstoppable orcs to fight. It’s a little like a Horcrux in that way.

What does Sauron look like? - Science Fiction & Fantasy Stack Exchange

Why can Sauron be a big guy and also an eye on a tower?

So in a deleted scene from The Return of the King (deleted from the Extended Edition even!), Peter Jackson intended Sauron to fight Aragorn, instead of that big orc, at the last battle. But how can he do that if he’s watching from the tower?

We are pretty sure Sauron has a physical form during The Lord of the Rings. Gollum says he has witnessed Sauron during his torture in Barad-Dur, noted that he has four fingers on one hand. Other writings from Tolkien say that he lost his form during the battle where he lost the One Ring and took a while to build back up.

The Eye is a “hostile will that strove with great power to pierce all shadows of cloud, and earth, and flesh”. So think of it as a spell. And we can deduce that the Mouth of Sauron, the Head of Sauron, etc. are all either nicknames or magic spells (or both).

Which towers are the “Two” towers?

The tower of Barad-dûr (Sauron’s tower) and Orthanc (Saruman’s tower in Isengard). The movie/book is called that because it’s about the evil forces coming to full power and closing in on the good guys.

Some say Tolkien meant for them to be Orthanc and Minas Morgul (the green city where the witch-king lives), but there’s nothing in the narrative to support this.

What’s the Flame of Anor? Why is it important?

This one we don’t know for sure. Gandalf refers to it in his rah-rah speech against the Balrog (“I am a servant of the Secret Fire, wielder of the flame of Anor.“), but it’s never mentioned in any books.

Anor is the elvish word for sun. Perhaps the “Flame of Anor” means the light of the sun, which might refer to his power or origins as a Maia.

How did Gandalf the Grey turn into Gandalf the White? What’s the deal with wizard colors?

Wizards are demi-gods incarnated as humans, known as Istari. There are five of them. Tolkien describes three: Gandalf the Grey, Saruman the White, and Radagast the Brown.

In an unfinished index for The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien mentions two blue wizards. One writing calls them Alatar and Pallando, but another calls them Morinehtar and Rómestámo. They arrived in the Second Age with the mission to travel to the East and incite rebellion against Sauron. Contradicting writings say they either succeeded or failed.

Gandalf 100% dies after fighting the balrog. But he still had a task to finish, so Eru Ilúvatar sent him back to finish it, along with a boost of power. Eru Ilúvatar transforms Gandalf into “Gandalf the White” to show he is “Saruman as he should have been.” (In other words, a big thumbing of the nose to Saruman.) Colors aren’t ranks or identifiers (since there are two blue wizards).

On Orcs | A Lent of the Lord of the Rings

What’s the difference between orcs, goblins, and uruk-hai? How can I tell the difference?

BOOK

Goblins are the orcs that Thorin and company meet in The Hobbit, who live under the Misty Mountains.

“Orc” and “goblin” are synonyms. Tolkien said Orc “is not an English word. It occurs in one or two places but is usually translated as ‘goblin’ (or ‘hobgoblin’ for the larger kinds). Orc is the hobbits’ form of the word given at that time to these creatures.”

Part of the confusion is that Tolkien used “goblin” extensively in The Hobbit, a children’s book, but “orc” in The Lord of the Rings to convey a more fearsome tone. This division furthered as works based on Tolkien (like Dungeons & Dragons) separated the two into different species.

An “Uruk-hai” is an orc mated with a man, bred by Sauron to act as elite commanders of orcs. Saruman tried mating orcs and men but they turned out as “sallow-faced and squint-eyed”. The word, in Black Speech, means “orc-folk”.

MOVIE

In Moria, Pippin unwittingly alerts the goblins who chase them through the mines (though in the book, these are referred to as orcs). This is the last we see of “goblins”.

Therefore we can assume to distinguish “goblins” as “orcs that live underground” and can be discerned by their smaller size, large eyes (to see in the dark), and lighter greenish skin tone.

Goblin

Uruk-hai are created by burying breeding sacks, a kind of artificial womb, deep in the earth. This lets them grow to adult size quickly. They are larger than orcs, don’t have pointed ears, and have very dark skin.

Uruk-hai

There are two types–Isengarders (Saruman’s army) and Black Uruk-hai (Sauron’s army).

Are orcs a subspecies of elves or are they their own thing?

Tolkien’s never firmly said where orcs came from. At one time, he said Morgoth (Middle-earth’s Lucifer) created them from corrupted elves (since he can’t create life). But this meant orcs were inherently evil, and Tolkien didn’t like the idea of an unredeemable race. Through the years, he’s said things like they came from stone, from beasts, from Maiar, and/or from men. The Silmarillion says they come from elves, but it’s not a completed work.

Shankar Rao - Linbey - female orc concept

Do the orcs breed? Where are the female orcs?

Yes, but only in theory. Gandalf refers to orcs “spawning” at one point. At the battle of the Hornburg, someone refers to “half-orcs” and “goblin-men”. Aragorn refers to “half-orcs” at Isengard. The Silmarillion says “the orcs had life and multiplied after the manner of the Children of Ilúvatar”. This must mean orcs reproduce through sex.

Subsequent post-Tolkien texts go into more detail, saying more “cunning breeds” of orcs could be created by mating men with orcs. Saruman rediscovered this and did so, resulting in Men-orcs and Orc-men. The fact that there are two terms for the same thing with the words reversed might imply one term means “offspring of an orc father and human mother” and another for “human father and orc mother”.

Finally, there’s a letter where Tolkien wrote “there must have been orc-women. But in stories that seldom if ever see the Orcs except as soldiers of armies in the service of the evil lords we naturally would not learn much about their lives. Not much was known.”

So they exist, but that’s about all we know about them.

This means orcs breed through conventional means. So why are there so many male orcs and no females? I don’t know. Where are they all? Further to the east?

The Importance of Tom Bombadil. Why the scene where little happens, is… |  by Floris Koot | Fool's Questions | Medium

WTF is Tom Bombadil?

No one really knows. He could be the avatar of Eru Ilúvatar, a Vala, a wizard, a nature spirit, or just an eccentric guy living in the woods. But he doesn’t make a difference in the story–doesn’t hurt or help the protagonists–so it hardly matters.

We know his various names in elvish, Rohirric, etc. translate to “very old” or “eldest”. The One Ring doesn’t affect him (he doesn’t turn invisible), but he can see its wearer in the wraith-realm. Everything after that is conjecture.

Why couldn't Sauron control all the rings without creating the one ring? -  Quora
Sauron (disguised as an elf named Annatar) and Celebrimbor

Why do they keep saying “they were all of them deceived, for another ring was made”? Who did Sauron deceive? If he put his power into eighteen other rings, how did he put any into the One Ring?

In the second age, there was an elven king named Celebrimbor. Celebrimbor was a master smith.

Sauron disguised himself as an elf named Annatar and went to Celebrimbor. He claimed he was taught the art of ring-making by the gods and wanted to teach it to Celebrimbor. Together, they created the eighteen rings, but unknowingly (to all but Sauron) incorporated a binding magic into them.

Meanwhile, Sauron was actually learning how to make rings from them. Then he forged the One Ring on his own. This artifact would let him control all the lesser rings, which would go onto the fingers of the rulers of Middle-earth.

The One Ring is a focus tool. A medium to control the other medium (like you can’t connect to any other computer unless you have a computer yourself).

How does the One Ring fit everyone who wears it?

It’s magic. The One Ring wants to be worn, to be used. That brings it closer to its master.

Fellowship - Assemble - Album on Imgur

Why does Frodo have to take the One Ring? He’s, like, the weakest of them all.

The council would like to destroy it, but they all believe there’s no chance any of them can get to Mount Doom. So they argue about whether to use it against Sauron, if they can hide it, etc. until Frodo raises his hand.

Why does he? A few reasons.

  1. Frodo, being an innocent hobbit with no ambitions for power, is the least corruptible of them all.
  2. Frodo has a sense of responsibility/ownership of the One Ring because he inherited it. Therefore, he feels he should be the one to destroy it. (Side note: He’s also the only one who didn’t get the One Ring through cheating or murder.)
  3. He’d already proven capable of carrying the One Ring from the Shire to Rivendell, so he had previous job experience.

Why does Sauron send ALL his troops to fight Aragorn and the others at the Black Gate in their “last stand”?

Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli intend to distract Sauron to give Frodo more time to destroy the One Ring. (How they’re so certain Frodo’s not facedown in a river, I don’t know. Faith, I guess.) So Aragorn looks into the Palantir* and makes a personal challenge, showing him Anduril (the reforged sword that cut off Sauron’s finger before). This does three things:

  1. Taunts Sauron
  2. Reminds him that the last time he fell, it was with the same sword. And it’s essentially coming for him again.
  3. Convinces Sauron that Aragorn has the One Ring.

Regarding that third point, Sauron knows the One Ring is close to his vicinity. And the last time he saw the One Ring it was still in the hands of the fellowship (at the end of Fellowship of the Ring, when Frodo uses it to hide from Boromir). Therefore, he deduces that Aragorn has it since they would give it to the most powerful one of them to hold.

So Sauron goes to meet Aragorn’s challenge, hoping he can either seize the One Ring or get Aragorn to put it on and influence him that way.

*A Palantir is a crystal ball that allows direct communication with Sauron. Only wizards can use it without having their minds taken over.

What good is the One Ring? All it does is turn one person invisible.

True, but it has more powers than that.

The One Ring’s main power is to dominate those who hold the other “Rings of Power”. Those are the three for the elves, seven for the dwarves, and nine for the men. It can also influence creatures who do not have rings of power (like Smeagol).

It can intensify/enhance the powers of one who wears it. A powerful leader with the One Ring has more command over others. A strong warrior with the One Ring will be nigh unbeatable in combat.

So when Frodo wears it, not much happens because he’s a normal humble halfling who doesn’t seek to dominate anyone. But if Gandalf or Galadriel wore it, watch out. That’s why they avoid touching it, because they know the extent of their magic and how much they can influence others.

If the One Ring can influence those who hold the other rings of power, why doesn’t it?

It does for the men who are the Ringwraiths (guys in black robes that chase Frodo, Sam, and others).

The dwarves are largely unaffected by the rings because they’re so stubborn. But Sauron was able to make them greedier (like hoarding the treasures under Erebor) and prone to bad decisions (like resettling Moria). Sauron obtained three of them through trickery and war. The other four were consumed by dragonfire.

The elves aren’t influenced by the rings because A) Sauron didn’t directly create the rings B) they stopped using the rings when they realized Sauron was evil.

LOTR – Insane Facts About The One Ring of Power - FandomWire

Why doesn’t Sauron turn invisible when he wears the One Ring?

Sauron designed the One Ring that way. Since he’s partially a Maia, he exists in both the seen and unseen realms. This means he can see and be seen in both realms.

Since the One Ring draws the wearer partially into the unseen realm (a.k.a. “wraith realm”), it has no “invisibility” effect on Sauron.

Why did Sauron make all the rings?

He made these rings as gifts for the other races on Middle-Earth–dwarves, elves, and men. (He already had an army of orcs and goblins.) The rings were all bound to the One Ring, which Sauron would use to exert influence on the wearers of the lesser rings.

Geek The Geek — The Balrog of Morgoth by JamesBousema | Balrog of morgoth,  Lord of the rings tattoo, Lord of the rings

What’s a balrog? What is doing down there in the mines of Moria? Does it work for Sauron?

A balrog is a Maia that was “turned to the dark side” by Morgoth. It’s on the same rank as Sauron, Saruman, and Gandalf. There are many of them, but the one we’re concerned about is the one in the Mines of Moria.

This balrog (like others of its kind) had sought refuge by digging deep into the earth after losing the war between Morgoth and everyone else (called the “War of Wrath”). About 1300 years later, some dwarves awoke it while mining too deep for mithril. The balrog woke up and killed most of them all, including Moria’s dwarf king Durin (an ancestor of Balin). This earned it the name “Durin’s Bane”.

About another thousand years later is when Gandalf and the Fellowship finally encounter it.

Marcin Witkowski on Twitter: "#Gandalf And The #Balrog art by @TedNasmith  #LOTR #Tolkien https://t.co/BHEajQofTp"

What is Gandalf saying to the balrog? What do those terms mean?

“I am the servant of the secret fire, wielder of the flame of Anor. The dark fire will not avail you, Flame of Udûn! Go back to the Shadow! YOU… SHALL NOT… PASS!”

“Secret Fire” = the life-giving power imparted to the world by Eru Ilúvatar (identifying himself as a Maia)
“flame of Anor” = elvish word for “sun”
“Flame of Udûn” = Udûn is the fortress of Morgoth

So a more understandable way of putting it could be “I am a servant of God’s creation, wielder of the light of the sun. Evil’s power will not avail you, soldier of Morgoth!”

Eric Juneau is a software engineer and novelist on his lunch breaks. In 2016, his first novel, Merm-8, was published by eTreasures. He lives in, was born in, and refuses to leave, Minnesota. You can find him talking about movies, video games, and Disney princesses at http://www.ericjuneaubooks.com where he details his journey to become a capital A Author.

2 Comments

  • Dan

    Just read your Lord of the Rings FAQ. Thanks for that. We watch it every Christmas and while I’ve read the book 2 or 3 times there is a lot of the backstory I forgot or never knew

    In regards to that scene where Gandalf faces the Balrog and is talking about the flame of arnor etc., I’ve read in several locations that he had inherited one of the 3 rings which happens to be the fire ring. I’ve long had a theory that’s what he’s talking about and why he could fight the Balrog saying “dark fire will
    not avail you”. Evil fire can’t beat him while he has that ring. Any thoughts on that?

    • Eric J. Juneau

      Hmm, he does possess Narya, the ring of fire. But nowhere does Tolkien talk about elemental magic or certain elements being influenced by evil or good like we do today (e.g. Avatar: The Last Airbender). Not to mention the ring has more influence over preservation and healing than combat or offense. So I don’t think Gandalf is referring to his ring when he talks about a “flame of Anor”. He could be talking about their individual spirits — him being cloaked in a fire/light of good and the Balrog being coated in dark red flame.

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