Page 57. " The ancient East-West Road ran through the Shire to its end at the Grey Havens, and dwarves had always used it on their way to their mines in the Blue Mountains. "

The Misty Mountains?
Creative Commons AttributionThe Misty Mountains? - Credit: Macpedia at Flickr
Middle-earth can roughly be divided into two main sections by splitting the map into east and west of the Misty Mountains. On the west side (Eriador), the East-West Road runs from the Misty Mountains, past Rivendell, past Bree, over the Brandywine Bridge, through the Shire to the Grey Havens. The Grey Havens (Mithlond to the elves) is the place from which the elves sail when they leave Middle-earth, travelling to Valinor (one of the Undying Lands) across the sea. South of the Grey Havens are the Blue Mountains, where the dwarves’ mines are found. For the first half of this book, everything happens within Eriador on the west side of the Misty Mountains.

A map of Middle-earth.

A map of Eriador.

Page 57. " It seemed that the evil power in Mirkwood had been driven out by the White Council only to reappear in greater strength in the old strongholds of Mordor. The Dark Tower had been rebuilt, it was said. "
Dark heart of the forest
Creative Commons Attribution Share AlikeDark heart of the forest - Credit: bogenfreund at Flickr

Mirkwood is a large forest to the east of the Misty Mountains. At the beginning of the Third Age, its name was changed from Greenwood the Great to Mirkwood to reflect its dark, sinister nature. This was caused by the building of the evil fortress Dol Guldur (‘Hill of Sorcery’) by a mysterious necromancer. This evil power was driven out once, fleeing eastwards, but returned to Dol Guldur approximately four hundred years later. Gandalf investigated and found that the necromancer was none other than Sauron, gathering his power again after his defeat at the end of the Second Age. The White Council, a gathering of the wizards and the Chief Eldar, met to discuss the threat and eventually agreed to drive Sauron out. By now, however, it was too late, and Sauron only fled as far as Mordor to begin gathering his armies again.








Tongariro National Park, New Zealand
Creative Commons AttributionTongariro National Park, New Zealand - Credit: Mrs. Gemstone/Wikimedia Commons
Mordor (‘Black-land’) is a dark, evil land in the south of Middle-earth, surrounded by the Ashy Mountains and the Mountains of Shadow. Mordor is Sauron’s land, where he is currently gathering his army of orcs and evil beings, and where he has re-built his fortress, the Dark Tower or Barad-dûr. This tower was destroyed in the last war against Sauron at the end of the Second Age, when the Last Alliance of Men and Elves finally defeated the Dark Lord.

Map of Mirkwood

Map of Mordor

Tolkien created a rich history and mythology of Middle-earth that spans many ages. There are numerous references to these events and stories throughout the book, and a collection of more detailed accounts in a large appendix at the end of The Return of the King, which can sometimes be a little overwhelming. More about Middle-earth can also be found in The Silmarillion, Unfinished Tales, and The History of Middle-earth, all edited and published after Tolkien’s death by his son, Christopher Tolkien.

In order to make sense of all this information and background, there are many unofficial companion books and encyclopaedias written for The Lord of the Rings, with entries on all the people, places and battles mentioned. These can be very useful for those interested in delving deeper into Middle-earth’s past as they read the story. Alternatively, plenty of information can be found online (Warning: these links include Spoilers!):

The Encyclopaedia of Arda

Wikipedia – Timeline of the Ages of Middle-earth

One Wiki to Rule Them All


Page 66. " I cannot read the fiery letters "

Tolkien reading an extract from the text, including The Ring verse.

Page 66. " The letters are Elvish, of an ancient mode, but the language is that of Mordor "
Universal Declaration of Human Rights in Tengwar script (in English)
Public DomainUniversal Declaration of Human Rights in Tengwar script (in English) - Credit: Alatius/Wikimedia Commons

Tolkien was a scholar of philology and deeply loved language and mythology, considering the two inseparable. He specialised in Old Norse at university, worked for the Oxford English Dictionary, became a Reader in English Language at the University of Leeds, and became a professor of Anglo-Saxon at Pembroke College, Oxford University. He learned Latin, French, German, Middle English, Old English, Greek, Finnish, Italian and Welsh, and was familiar with many more languages. His particular interest was Germanic languages, and he developed a great love for Finnish.

When creating the different cultures of Middle-earth, Tolkien constructed a rich mythology and language for each. His main Elvish languages are Quenya and Sindarin, with Quenya being mainly a ceremonial language by the Third Age, equivalent to Latin today (Tolkien sometimes referred to Quenya as ‘Elven-Latin.’) Quenya was influenced mainly by Finnish, which Tolkien had been so impressed by, but also has elements of Latin and Greek. Sindarin, the more commonly spoken Elvish language by the time of The Lord of the Rings, is influenced primarily by Welsh. The Black Speech, found on the Ring, was created by Sauron and is spoken in Mordor, designed by Tolkien to be an unpleasant, ugly language. Another language of Middle-earth is the Dwarvish language Khuzdûl, influenced by Hebrew.

Tolkien also invented scripts for his languages, which are sometimes shown in the book. Tengwar is the beautiful flowing script written on the Ring (though the actual language is the Black Speech). This is the script that Elvish is usually written in.

The inscription on the Ring
GNU Free Documentation LicenseThe inscription on the Ring - Credit: Alarr/Wikimedia Commons

A National Geographic article suggested that a deep sadness over the loss of languages and cultures from our world is reflected in The Lord of the Rings, with the passing of the elves and the loss of their culture and knowledge. The article states that there are now only 6,000 languages left in our world from a possible 10,000, and that this number could easily fall as low as 3,000 in the next hundred years. Read the full article here.

Page 68. " It was Gil-galad, Elven-king and Elendil of Westernesse who overthrew Sauron "

Sauron's hand, wearing the One Ring
Creative Commons AttributionSauron's hand, wearing the One Ring - Credit: Katie Tegtmeyer/Wikimedia Commons
 Gil-galad was the last High King of the exiled Noldorin elves (see bookmark for page 104). When Sauron, before his true evil nature became apparent, persuaded the Elven-smiths of Eregion to forge rings of power, Gil-galad was suspicious. His doubts were justified, as Sauron betrayed the elves by making the One Ring to control the others.

 Elendil was one of the faithful Númenorians who founded the kingdoms of Arnor and Gondor after Númenor (also called Westernesse) was sunk beneath the sea (see bookmark for page 316). Elendil was High King of both kingdoms, choosing to rule from Arnor while his sons Isildur and Anárion ruled Gondor.

Together, Gil-galad and Elendil formed the Last Alliance of Men and Elves in order to destroy Sauron and put an end to his evil. The vast army they amassed consisted of elves from several realms including Elrond of Rivendell, men of Arnor and Gondor, and some dwarves. During the battle, both Gil-galad and Elendil were slain, but Isildur picked up the hilt-shard of his father’s sword Narsil and cut the Ring from Sauron’s hand. Sauron’s physical form was destroyed and the battle was won. The Kingship passed to Isildur, who was killed by orcs soon after. The Ring fell into the Gladden River and was lost (eventually making its way to Sméagol/Gollum).

Page 69. " he was waylaid by the Orcs of the Mountains "
Orc Warrior
Creative Commons AttributionOrc Warrior - Credit: Markus Röncke at Elfwood
An Orc is an evil, ugly, goblin-like creature that will kill and eat men. They are used in the armies of Sauron and like to live in dark or evil places, such as the cave-dwelling Orcs in the Misty Mountains, or those that live in Mordor. The Orcs are described elsewhere as being foul creations of Morgoth (or Melkor), one of the Valar (spirits/angels) who turned to darkness and became known as The Great Enemy. Sauron is Morgoth’s servant. See bookmark for page 73 for more about the Valar.

Tolkien revealed that The Princess and the Goblin (1872) by George MacDonald was his main influence in creating the Orcs. On the use of the word ‘orc’ Tolkien said; “Orc I derived from Anglo-Saxon, a word meaning demon”. Goblins can be found in real Germanic and British folklore as mischievous, sometimes evil little creatures that inhabit caves and woodlands. They might possess minor magical abilities and in some stories they eat human flesh.

Goblin on Warg
Creative Commons AttributionGoblin on Warg - Credit: Željko Matuško at Elfwood
Page 73. " I can put it no plainer than by saying that Bilbo was meant to find the Ring, and not by its maker. In which case you also were meant to have it. And that may be an encouraging thought. "
Heavenly Light
Creative Commons AttributionHeavenly Light - Credit: raj_nair81 at Flickr

Could this be a reference to a higher power, or God, leading Frodo along the right path? Tolkien’s created world, Arda, of which Middle-earth is just one continent, does indeed have a God. Ilúvatar, sometimes called Eru or The One, is the creator of all existence. Beneath this divine figure are the Ainur, spirits who helped Ilúvatar to shape Arda. After the creation of the world, the Ainur were given the choice of whether to go into Arda or not. The ones who did became known as the Valar (Powers), and the less powerful Maiar. Both Elbereth and Morgoth (The Great Enemy), occasionally mentioned in The Lord of the Rings, are Valar. Sauron, a servant of Morgoth, is one of the Maiar. These powers watch over and sometimes intervene in the mortal world.

Gandalf himself, along with four other wizards (the Istari), were sent to Middle-earth by the Valar in order to guide its inhabitants in the coming fight against Sauron. They were given strict instructions only to aid, not to claim power for themselves, a rule that we will soon see one of the wizards has broken.

The Lord of the Rings can be read as a religious or spiritual book, with a battle of good against evil and a strong message about the corruptive nature of power as well as the evils of giving in to temptation (see next bookmark, p75). Tolkien was a Roman Catholic with strong religious beliefs that he has admitted influenced the novel, though he has strongly argued against all allegorical readings, stating that he prefers applicability to allegory. Temptation, lust for power, faith, humility, redemption, and good vs evil are all themes found in The Lord of the Rings.