Lynn on ‘Meetings’ for August

The blog posts for August are disrupted by matters pertaining to the Reading Group. Like Laura, I had also prepared a presentation in case we had time, but as that was not the case, I post it here:

The Meetings of Tuor in The Silmarillion and the Book of Lost Tales 2

In TSil Tuor’s meetings with Ulmo and Voronwë are very simply treated – only enough actual detail is included to tell the story. But in BLT 2: The Fall of Goldolin far more description and far more descriptive languuage surrounds the meeting with the Noldoli. Tuor does not meet Voronwë in this version until the rest of the Noldoli have left him.

Turo’s actual meeting with Ulmo, as distinct from Ulmo’s influence over his life, begins when Ulmo fears the attractions of the land may distract Tuor. The descriptions of the Land of Willows are lush and perhaps owe something to the influence of the Romantic movement in Tolkien’s writing, however, in constrast to the natural land-based imagery and its soft soundscape Ulmo sets the sounds of the sea, so that when He rises it is not in a storm as in TSil, but with magical music and sea sounds.

His greeting to Turo at their meeting is briefly compassionate but it is not encouraging as he addresses him as ‘Tuor of the lonely heart’ and pronounces his doom, which is not to live among the flowers and butterflies that delight him at that time, but to travel. After this Tuor meets the Noldoli who are his guides until they leave him out of fear. Only after this encounter does Tuor meet Voronwë (Bronweg).

In all respects the meetings Tuor has in BLT 2 with Ulmo and Voronwë are more detailed and far more descriptive visually and aurally than the descriptions of these meetings in TSil. However, one of Tuor’s encounters in TSil is wholly absent from ‘The Fall of Gondolin’ in BLT 2, and that is the distant passing of the Man in black. We know this is Túrin, and it seems odd initially for the narration to tell the reader about a meeting that specifically doesn’t happen.

Túrin had hoped for solace at the Pools of Ivrin, but as Tuor found, they had been ruined by Glaurung. A meeting between the two Men might have provided solace for them both, but the non-meeting of the cousins leaves Tuor still ‘of the lonely heart’ and the Mormegil prey to his hubristic isolation so that both go on to fulfil quite different destinies.

Tolkien’s works are full of meetings – good and bad – but this ‘almost’ meeting of two kindred warriors has memorable pathos in TSil, which Tolkien surely wanted to highlight. Heroes have to be always in motion, physically in order to fulfil their roles as heroes undertaking quests, which leads them to the process of personal development and change through the encounters they have. But the ‘almost’ meeting of the two cousins, one an anti-hero, on their divergent quests introduces a sense of ‘what if’ that seems irrelevant to their stories, but was clearly not so for Tolkien, who uses it to expose our attitudes to fate. Christopher Tolkien’s decision to go with one version rather than the other may confirm what he knew of the importance of this motif to his father’s vision.

Laura on ‘Meetings’ for August

The blog posts for August are disrupted by matters pertaining to the Reading Group. Laura had her presentation ready to go and I post it here.

By Zoom

14 August 2021


When Races First Meet

When the Valar first meet the Elves

In the Silmarillion, Chapter 3 “Of the Coming of the Elves and the Captivity of Melkor”, the Elves emerge into starlight after Varda has created the stars. They are left to their own devices after there emergence by the Water of the Awakening.

Tolkien wrote: “And on a time it chanced that Oromë rode eastward in his hunting…” His horse, Nahar, alerted him to something and he heard distant singing. Tolkien also wrote: “Thus it was that the Valar found at last, as it were by chance, those whom they so long awaited.” As we are so fond of in Tolkien, chance is never chance!

Oromë was amazed at the Elves even though events were predicted. Tolkien explains this by writing that races that come into Eä will be met and seen as something new and not predicted. Oromë loved the Elves. However, the Elves were not equally enraptured with him because, horribly, they had already met Melkor’s servants as he was aware that the Elves had come into being years before the other Valar did.

Therefore, some of the Elves were already frightened, believing the evil stories that Melkor’s servants had told them about the Valar, particularly Oromë, a hunter who would drag them away. Because of this, some Elves ran away and were caught by Melkor who eventually created orcs from these; “…the most vilest deed of Melkor and the most hateful to Iluvatar”. Other Elves were able to see that Oromë was not evil and followed him.

The meeting of Elves and Oromë should have been a momentous and happy time but Melkor has managed to undermine the virtues of the Valar. It sets the scene for the schism between groups of Elves in the future which even gives them their tribal names: Elves of the Darkness and Elves of the Light and other divisions. Tolkien does not describe these servants who are clearly not orcs and presumably not as menacing as balrogs. Melkor is still beautiful at this time so presumably his servants might be lovely also, a physical feature appreciated by Elves. This act by Melkor also leads to the war against him by the Valar and his temporary incarceration.

When Dwarves and Elves first meet

There is already a sense in The Silmarillion that this meeting will not go well because, technically, the Dwarves were alive first but made by a Valar, Aulë, going against Iluvatar’s orders that the Elves would be the first race on Middle-earth.

Following the description of their creation, the Dwarves next come into the work in Chapter 10, “Of the Sindar”. “It came to pass during the second age of the captivity of Melkor, that Dwarves came over the Blue Mountains of Ered Luin into Beleriand.” The Elves called them the Stunted People and Masters of Stone.

“The Elves were filled with amazement for they had believed themselves to be the only living things in Middle-earth that spoke with words or wrought with hands, and that all others were but birds and beasts.”

Tolkien describes a cool friendship between the two races although they were happy to trade with each other including metal skills. The Dwarves and Elves worked together to build Menegroth for Thingol.

When Turin meets the three petty-dwarves, one of them tells him where they live. “…Amon Rudh is that hill called now, since the Elves changed all the names.” There is a touch of bitterness in that sentence, spoken by the conquered of the conquerors and hating the Elves.

The tense relationship between the Elves and Dwarves is underpinned by the loathing between the beautiful and the ugly; the over-confident and the quick to take offence.

When Merry and Pippin meet Treebeard

This event takes place in Chapter 4 of Book 3 of the Two Towers.

Merry and Pippin have escaped from the horror of the Uruk-hai into a dark forest. They climb up the side of a cliff to see across the forest. Pippin says: “….This shaggy forest looked so different in the sunlight. I almost felt I liked the place.” This last sentence is repeated by a giant tree-like being who picks them up and says: “…I almost feel I dislike you both but do not let us be hasty…” Treebeard says that he liked their “nice, little voices” which reminded him of something, presumably the Entwives. He would have killed them, thinking they were little orcs but hearing their voices stopped him.

Treebeard, an ancient keeper of the old lists of races and creatures cannot recall the hobbits’ place in the lists. Pippin suggests a new line: “Half-grown hobbits, the hole dwellers” to be included amongst Elves, Dwarves, Ents and Men.

This first meeting could have ended in disaster but was saved by Pippin’s positive remark and the hobbits’ pleasant voices. This first meeting led to Treebeard and the Ents fighting against Saruman thus preventing a war on two fronts for the allies.

If there is a thread in these first meetings between races, it is the role of voices: Melkor and Oromë drawn by the Elves’ singing; the Elves being astonished that the Dwarves had language and Treebeard liking the Hobbits’ voices. This also occurs in the first meeting between Men, arriving from the East, and Finrod Felagund who hears their singing at night and who creeps into their camp and plays elvish music on a harp which entrances them.

Julie’s Presentation on Sound for July

10 July 2021 – Sounds

We live just below the north escarpment of Salisbury Plain. It is a beautiful part of Wiltshire. On quiet days you can hear sheep bleating, cattle lowing, larks singing high up in the blue etc. However, there is a military training area up there. We regularly get to hear a lot of the sounds of warfare, including semi-automatic rifle fire, general purpose machine gun fire, artillery and so on, and also very low-flying military aircraft, in amongst the songs of the skylarks. When the tanks are firing off at close range it shakes the house (it has quite a few cracks in the walls), rattles the doors and windows and knocks the pictures crooked. I have more or less got used to this and even feel quite reassured by it as it reminds me that we have a significant and competent Army standing between us in the UK and the evil-intentioned in the rest of this naughty world, but for the purposes of today it put me in mind of the constant irruption of combat noises into the narrative of “The Lord of the Rings”. These are not just the obvious booming, rumbling and thundering sounds suggestive of artillery fire which are increasingly frequently referenced towards the climax of the story.

In the chapter “A Journey in the Dark”, in which the Company is passing through the apparently abandoned Dwarvish city and mines of Moria, there is the following passage:

(Pippin has just foolishly dropped a stone into the well in the guard-room, inciting the ire of Gandalf. At first it seems that all is well, but then…)

“Nothing more was heard for several minutes; but then there came out of the depths faint knocks: tom-tap, tap-tom. They stopped, and when the echoes had died away, they were repeated: tap-tom, tom-tap, tap-tap, tom. They sounded disquietingly like signals of some sort; but after a while the knocking died away and was not heard again.

‘That was the sound of a hammer, or I have never heard one,’ said Gimli.”

It is well-known that mining and counter-mining by British and German troops were important preliminary actives in advance of various offensives of the First World War. Lt Charles Douie of the Dorsetshire Regiment recalled as follows:

“I descended a shaft on one occasion and although assured by the officer on duty that there was no safer place on the western front, I ascended again with remarkable speed, preferring the hazards of an open-air life in the mine craters to the narrow galleries, driven above and below the German galleries, where men lay always listening to the tap of enemy picks, and waiting for the silence which was ever the prelude to the blowing of mine or counter-mine.”*

Lt Norman Dillion of the Royal Engineers recalled:

“You had to listen to what the Germans were doing; you had to outsmart them. You had listening posts deep down in the chalk, I took my turn listening. Sitting down in the bowels of the earth listening for what was going on. You had primitive instruments, electrified earphones and you could easily hear people tapping away a long distance through the chalk. Then if you listened carefully if they were making a chamber to put the explosive charge in you could hear the much more hollow noise of digging. Following that you would hear the sinister sliding of bags of explosive into the chamber. Following that you got out!”*

It is some three days following the tapping incident when the Company finally hear the first percussive drum-beats of doom, doom heralding the arrival of the pursuing orcs and discover that they “cannot get out”.

Some nineteen mines of varying degrees of destructiveness were prepared by the British in advance of the opening of the offensive at the Somme on 1 July 1916. Their purpose was to destroy the German positions. There would have been more but there was not the available manpower or time and things did not go as planned. Nonetheless, the resulting massive explosion was said to have been so powerful as to be audible in London, the most enormous explosion ever caused by human beings until the arrival of the atomic bomb three decades later. Until then, the largest explosion ever unleashed by mankind had been the unintentional destruction by a stray British shell of the ammunition store at the fortress of Almeida in Portugal in 1810.** One can imagine that the effect of the detonation of those British mines might inform this passage from “The Stairs of Cirith Ungol” when Frodo, Sam and Gollum are about to begin their ascent, still perilously close to Minas Morgul as the forces under the command of the Witch-King are about to march from the gate:

“At that moment the rock quivered and trembled beneath them. The great rumbling noise, louder than ever before, rolled in the ground and echoed in the mountains. Then with searing suddenness there came a great red flash. Far beyond the eastern mountains it leapt into the sky and splashed the lowering clouds with crimson. In that valley of shadow and cold deathly light it seemed unbearably violent and fierce. Peaks of stone and ridges like notched knives sprang out in staring black against the uprushing flame in Gorgoroth. Then came a great crack of thunder.
And Minas Morgul answered. There was a flare of livid lightnings: forks of blue flame springing up from the tower and from the encircling hills into the sullen clouds. The earth groaned…”

(In Peter Jackson’s cinematic version of this incident, Gandalf and Pippin are shown observing it from their lodgings in Minas Tirith – presumably it is the answering detonation in Minas Morgul that they are seeing and hearing, about 50 miles away, which reflects the anecdote about the British mines being audible in London. I don’t think this occurs in the book but please advise me if otherwise!)

I forget who pointed it out – Laura? – but there is one genuine incident of a mine, at Helm’s Deep, when Saruman’s forces plant explosives in the culvert to create a breach in the wall. A genuine example of modern sapper-work in LOTR.

Previously, as the trio arrived at the Crossroads, drawing ever closer to Mordor, they heard what might remind the reader of the sound of not-so-distant artillery:

“’I wonder what’s up,’ said Sam. ‘Is there a storm coming? If so it’s going to be the worst there ever was. We shall wish we were down a deep hole, not just stuck under a hedge.’ He listened. ‘What’s that? Thunder, or drums, or what is it?’

‘I don’t know,’ said Frodo. ‘It’s been going on for a good while now. Sometimes the ground seems to tremble, sometimes it seems to be the heavy air throbbing in your ears.’”

And of course, it only gets worse. From “Mount Doom”:

“At that moment Sam felt a tremor in the ground beneath him, and he heard or sensed a deep remote rumble as of thunder imprisoned under the earth.”

These horrible sounds reminiscent of modern warfare are of course counterpointed by beautiful sounds – Elvish singing and music, water, laughter – and heart-lifting sounds such as the horns of Rohan. They are all necessary parts of the general sound environment of “The Lord of the Rings”.

Just a few semi-articulated thoughts!

*From “The Somme: An Eyewitness History” – ed. Robert T Foley & Helen McCartney. Folio Society, 2006.

**Fans of Bernard Cornwell will recall that he attributed this disaster to a deliberate act of sabotage by Lt Richard Sharpe of the (real) 95th Rifles but for some reason permanently attached to the (fictional) South Essex Regiment, hero of several of Cornwell’s novels set in the Peninsular Campaign.


Laura picked up the idea of an artillery barrage when she drew our attention to the effect of the Ents’ attack on Orthanc when they destroyed the masonary, and she noted that at the end of the Two Towers film she noticed ‘Sapper Orcs’ were credited.

Lynn’s Presentation on Sound for July

Lynn’s Presentation

The Sounds of Weather in LotR

The obvious place to start would seem to be with the storms – there are thunderstorms accompanying the Battle of Helms Deep and Sam and Frodo’s descent of the Emyn Muil. These are two different storms. Frodo and Sam encounter theirs in late February, the one at Helm’s Deep takes place on 3rd March, but the narrative effect is the same. However, the sounds of the storms are not always the most important feature. At Helms’ Deep it is the light that serves the narratorial function by enabling Tolkien to ‘spotlight’ significant parts of the action by using lightning flashes to show e.g. the intimidating scale of the attacking armies. However, sound is definitely the dominant feature in the episode on the Emyn Muil. The hobbits endure ‘a dry splitting crack of thunder right over head’, then a ‘blast of savage wind, and … mingling with its roar, there came a high shrill shriek’ (TT, Bk 4, Ch. I, ‘The Taming of Smeagol’), The effect of these disorienting and terrifying sounds is to send Frodo slipping down ‘with a wailing cry’. When Sam calls to him, the wind interrupts his voice as it comes ‘roaring up the gully’, but at least it brings the faint sound of Frodo’s voice to him.

These descriptions of the sounds of the weather are more than simply anthropomorphising for dramatic effect, although they are certainly that! They contrast with Frodo’s ‘faint cry’ to highlight the vulnerability of the hobbits in the face of this disembodied force, which is associated with the horribly supernatural cry of the Nazgul. Both light and sound in these storms are used to emphasise vulnerability and highten the sense of intimidation and tension experienced by readers.

The Emyn Muil stor  is not the first time in the story that the sounds of the weather have signalled supernatural agency. In some ways a more obvious place to begin this survey of sounds associated with weather would be in the storm on Caradhras. To begin with, it is just a blizzard, but it is quickly given a supernatural aspect in Boromir’s comment on Sauron’s control over storms in the Mountains of Shadow (Bk 2, Ch. III, ‘The Ring Goes South’). The storm then becomes so fierce that Gimli begins to grumble. Then the sounds really begin. Described in the narration as ‘eerie noises in the darkness, and qualified as: ‘It may have been only the wind in the cracks and gullies of the rocky wall, but the sounds were those of shrill cries, and wild howls of laughter’, the effect is initially intended to unsettle the reader.

The storm causes stones to whistle over the heads of the Company and boulders to rumble as they fall. These are not the antics of stone giants as they were in The Hobbit. Boromir is quite certain that it is all due to supernatural agency – ‘Let those call it the wind who will but …’ Aragorn asserts his belief that the noise is the action of the wind, but prepared to allow that the stones are a different matter and that there are other forces in the world. Gimli elaborates on this when he says that ‘Caradhras was called the Cruel and had an ill name long years ago’, before Sauron was known there.

It is noteworthy that once the Company have had a draught of miruvor, although the storm does not abate, but grows worse, it is no longer described in terms which construct its sounds in supernatural terms. Within the story, interpretations of the sounds of the storm have been constrained throughout by previous experience and cultural perceptions, so Boromir, Aragorn and Gimli give the reader not only a powerful impression of experiencing a blizzard on a mountain, they also provide a series of insights into the factors which govern the interpretation of natural meteorological sounds among the various races of Middle-earth, and in the process, define the role of myth-making in a pre-scientific world.

In contrast to the violent noises of storms, the soft sounds that accompany the hobbits as they leave Crickhollow for the Old Forest are atmospheric reminders of the quiet of autumn fog, which had been loaded with fear the night before. Similarly, the fog on the Barrow Downs created deep quiet but here the quiet is part of a chilly, threatening presence and a supernatural effect as ‘The fog rolled up to the walls (of the hollow), and rose above them’. But this quietness changes when a wind begins to ‘hiss’ over the grass. This natural sound will eventually take on a more ominous significance when it becomes characteristic of Gollum’s vocalisation, but even here as it drives the fog away, it is not a pleasant or comforting sound.

In one early instance the sound that is the result of rain does have a comforting effect. The rain that falls steadily over the House of Tom Bombadil goes ‘bubbling’ down the path and forms part of the sense of rustic lightness and calm of that environment. It is perhaps an accurate description of a little stream running downhill, but the description of its milkiness and bubbling have a childlike quality appropriate to the security provided by Tom and Goldberry as a brief interlude in the hobbits’ dangerous adventures.

This small selection of sounds connected with weather illustrates Tolkien’s careful choice of vocabulary which turns weather into an active participant in the episodes in which it is detailed in this way.

Laura’s Presentation on Sound for July

10 July 2021
SOUND in Tolkien’s work

Sound of Music and its effect. The Amons are alive with the sound of etc!

There is no written music in The Silmarillion, LOTR or the Hobbit – there are songs and lyrical poems but there are no scores. However there are recordings of Tolkien singing his songs and there is the book “The Road Goes Ever On” which is a musical collaboration between Donald Swann and Tolkien. Tolkien was happy with Swann’s interpretations of his songs except for Namarië which Tolkien heard as a Gregorian chant.
(The poems in the book are:
The Road Goes Ever On
Upon the Hearth the Fire is Red
In the Willow-meads of Tasarinan
In Western Lands
I Sit beside the Fire
In the foreward, the president of the American Tolkien Society said that there is already music in the songs as the poetry is very musical – “word music”.
Rosemary has written words and music for her song: Galadriel’s song.
Music in Tolkien’s work is a major subject for academic writers including in the Journal of Tolkien Research 2019 – Music in Tolkien’s Works and Beyond. Also Elizabeth Whittingham’s “A Matter of Song – the power of music and song in Tolkien’s legendarium.
And of course, “Tolkien’s minstrelsy – the performance of history and authority” in which the writer describes the use of song and poems about significant history for entertainment or solace. Dr Lynn Forest-Hill!
In order to prevent waffling, I am concentrating on specific songs or poems in the Silmarillion and the Lord of the Rings and of course I have to start with Tolkien’s creation story, the Music of the Ainur. Tolkien chose to begin the Middle-earth stories with song rather than any other medium.

Iluvatar sings and introduces music to the Ainur, his creation spirits. They start by singing on their own and then together in harmony, rather in an orchestral fashion. Iluvatar refers to a Great Music made by the Ainur in whom he has triggered the Flame Imperishable. They can create their own themes across the widest spectrum of sound and are still harmonious. There is a suggestion that this perfect music and song will be sung at the end of the world. The Ainur cannot see until Iluvatar shows them the world the vision of the world their music has created, so hearing is the first sense and the power of song, a creative tool.
However, the greatest spirit, Melkor, uses music to express his rebelliousness and his disharmony affects the Ainur nearest to him either by copying him or by stopping singing so his music has a massive impact on the creation of the world’s blueprint. The music continues for a while but then stops. “The Music ceased.” The use of silence is terrifying and in this silence, Iluvatar tells Melkor that no matter what he does, Iluvatar will restore the world to harmony and that his antiphonal music is part of the blueprint.

Also in the Silmarillion, Chapter Of the Beginning of Days, an Ainur/Vala uses song for further creation. Yavanna, who has taken responsibility for botanical and living things, sings the Two Trees of Valinor into life, Telperion and Laurelin. This is high drama as the trees grow out of a mound and bring light into the new world. Tolkien uses the power of singing again for creation.

Moving on to the LOTR and the chapter The Old Forest, as the hobbits get more and more confused in the trees and oppressed by their malice, Frodo sings a song to cheer them up:
“O! Wanderers in the Shadowed land
Despair not! For although dark they stand,
All woods there be must end at last
And see the open sun go past:
The setting sun, the rising sun
The day’s end or the day’s begun.
For east or west, all woods must fail…..”
There is no explanation about this song although presumably Frodo learnt it from Bilbo or his library. It seems to go against the usual thoughts about woods and in opposition to the Vala, Yavanna. However, in this context, the song fails as the travellers do not feel cheered up and the trees appear to understand what Frodo was singing and one drops a heavy branch. The failure of the song adds to the sinister atmosphere.

Similarly, Sam unexpectedly narrates a song in the chapter, A Knife In The Dark. It’s not clear if Sam sings his as Tolkien describes him as murmuring. He sings “Gil-galad was an Elven-king…” Sam has brought up this king in the middle of a discussion about the was of the last alliance in which Gil-galad was killed. This is another chance for Sam to astonish his companions and the reader about his knowledge and that Bilbo taught him. Although the hobbits have been close to the Black Riders, the content of this poem adds to the sinister atmosphere and the horror of Mordor getting closer.

On a lighter note, earlier in the book in the Chapter At the Sign of the Prancing Pony, in order to draw attention away from indiscreet Pippin, Frodo sings a long, fun song “There is an Inn, a merry old Inn…” about the Man in the Moon coming to earth for a drink. It is a grand elaboration on the nursery rhyme: “Hey diddle diddle, the cat and the fiddle…” The cat’s playing on his fiddle manages to wake up the drunk Man in the Moon to send him back into the sky. Perhaps Tolkien remembers caterwauling around the Sarehole Mill. The song amuses those in the pub and Frodo is encouraged to repeat it. Unlike the usual restrained hobbit, he enthusiastically sings the song with actions which lead to him falling from the table and “accidentally” putting on the ring and disappearing. This in turn alerts two dubious characters and Harry the gatekeeper into conferring about what they have seen. Although, superficially all was good fun, Tolkien used this incident to progress the action in which it is confirmed to the Black Riders that the hobbits are in Bree.

Chris’s presentation on Sound for July


This article examines the many roles silence plays in the Lord of the Rings.


The most obvious use of silence is as a means of stealth. Hobbits, for instance, can make very little sound, a very useful ability when hiding from or creeping up on others “Since they were all hobbits, and were trying to be silent, they made no noise that even hobbits would hear.” Aragorn is equally capable of using silence in order to remain hidden from his enemies although there are occasions where this technique does not offer success “for there was no hope that darkness and silence would keep their trail from discovery by the hunting packs

Tension and atmosphere

Silence is frequently used for dramatic effect. This can take a number of forms.

Firstly it can be used to stress the importance of a imminent event. An example occurs when Bilbo gives his birthday speech before the gathered hobbits “Something in the way that he said this made an impression. There was almost silence, and one or two of the Tooks pricked up their ears.” When Bilbo finally disappears in a blinding flash “Then there was a dead silence” so emphasising their shock. A similar example occurs when some riders appear behind Théoden’s troops and were assumed to be the enemy. The tension is heightened when “A silence followed: and then in the moonlight, a horseman could be seen dismounting and walking slowly forward.”  Of course this turns out to be Halbarad

Secondly silence is used as a way of enhancing a feeling of mystery or foreboding. A good example occurs when Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli are trailing the orcs who had captured Merry and Pippin. “But now all the land was empty, and there was silence that did not seem to be the quiet of peace”  and again “There is something strange at work in this land. I distrust the silence. I distrust even the pale Moon”. Similarly Faramir says to Frodo “A waiting silence broods above the Nameless Land. I do not know what this portends.” Indeed at Helms Deep fear of silence becomes a weapon against the orcs “The assailing hosts halted, foiled by the silent menace of rock and wall.”


When characters need to concentrate this is often aided by silence. An example occurs when Gandalf explains the significance of the Ring to Frodo “There was a long silence. Gandalf sat down again and puffed at his pipe, as if lost in thought. His eyes seemed closed, but under the lids he was watching Frodo intently” Similarly when Frodo has to decide whether to accept Strider as their guide “There was a heavy silence. Frodo made no answer, his mind was confused with doubt and fear.” Galadriel provides another example when she analyses the minds of the Fellowship “ in silence looked searchingly at each of them in turn.”

Complimentary to this, silence is used as an active agent in creating thoughts. An example occurs when Goldberry sings some of her songs to the hobbits “and in the silences they saw in their minds pools and waters wider than any they had known, and looking into them they saw the sky below them and the stars like jewels in the depths.


Silence is also used as a way of showing respect such as remembering and paying respects to those affected or killed by events. An example occurs when at the Window on the West where “Before they ate, Faramir and all his men turned and faced west in a moment of silence. Faramir signed to Frodo and Sam that they should do likewise.”. Similarly there is a Standing Silence at the formal banquet served by Merry and Pippin.

Silence as animate object

Perhaps one of the most interesting uses of silence in Tolkien’s works is when it becomes a  living entity. There are  numerous examples of this, for instance “A heavy silence fell in the room”, “Then silence grew until even Sam felt it”. It is as though silence has a life of its own and can therefore actively affect people’s feelings.

A plethora of silences

One would think that silence is silence but this is not the case in Tolkien’s world. These are some of the types of silences found in the Lord of the Rings : dead, heavy, empty, deep, black, listening, waiting, padded and long, Some of these adjectives imply the animate nature of silence such as listening and waiting referred to previously. Others are clearly used to stress the specific nature of the silence required for the situation being described. Yet many of the adjectives being used would not normally be associated with silence such as black or empty. This, to my mind, shows how Tolkien is able to imaginatively use the English language to great effect.

Clearly silence plays a fundamental role in the Lord of the Rings.

Angela’s Presentation for July

[This presentation very neatly bridges our previous topic and this month’s topic of ‘Sound’ by looking at the humour and picking up its inevitable consequence in the sound of laughter (ed.)]

Southfarthing ZOOM meeting 10/07/2021

Aragorn and Humour in The Lord of the Rings

I’ve sometimes heard Aragorn described as having no sense of humour. I don’t agree with this assessment and this piece looks at the way Aragorn uses humour in LotR. Quotations from the text are in italics.

Chapter 1.9

Aragorn’s first words to Frodo when they meet in the Prancing Pony are a warning to be more careful, telling him: There are queer folk about. Then, after noting the look on Frodo’s face he gives a wry smile and adds: Though I say it as shouldn’t you may think.  Thus he acknowledges the scruffy and offputting appearance he’s been forced to adopt, but is able to make a joke of his situation. The joke seems to act as a coping mechanism and is also perhaps an attempt to win Frodo over by sympathising with his doubts.

A little later in the same chapter Frodo, having caused much consternation by vanishing at the end of his song, crawls over to “Strider” before taking off the Ring and becoming visible again. Aragorn asks him why he did it, telling him: You have put your foot in it! Or should I say your finger? thus using a very clever piece of humour which leaves Frodo in no doubt that this stranger knows exactly what’s happened.

Chapter 1.10

Later that evening in the Hobbits’ room Aragorn tries to get Frodo to come clean about the incident in the bar by querying whether Mr Baggins has an honest reason for calling himself Underhill. Frodo answers him back angrily: Mr Strider may have an honest reason for spying and eavesdropping; but if so, I should advise him to explain it. Rather than taking offence Aragorn shows his appreciation of this reply by laughing and exclaiming Well answered! before briefly outlining his reason for approaching Frodo. The effect is to calm the situation down.


As the conversation moves on to Butterbur’s view of “Strider” as a mysterious vagabond, Aragorn gives a demonstration of his rascally look with a curl of his lip and a queer gleam in his eye. Again he is making a joke of his appearance – indeed his apparent spontaneity here could indicate that he makes a habit of putting on this rascally look to wind people up!

A further example of this attitude occurs when Frodo explains that one of his reasons for trusting Aragorn was that a servant of the enemy would have seemed fairer but felt fouler. Aragorn’s laughing rejoinder, I see, I look foul and feel fair. Is that it? again shows him laughing at himself as well as identifying with Frodo’s doubts.

As just mentioned much of his laughter acts as a coping mechanism. In addition to the danger they are all in (which Aragorn is only too well aware of), he is also dealing with hurt feelings and a yearning for friendship, wanting the Hobbits to take to him for his own sake rather than being won over by a reference from Gandalf.

Chapter 1.11

After Aragorn and the Hobbits have left Bree, Pippin (from recent experience) gets anxious about taking a short cut through the wood. Aragorn laughingly declares My cuts, short or long, don’t go wrong. I’ve heard this remark described as boastful, but surely its main purpose is reassurance – in extreme danger – that the leader knows what he is doing. He is trying to calm a scary situation.

Chapter 1.12

Later on when they reach the stone Trolls Aragorn again lightens the atmosphere by teasing Pippin for thinking that they were actually live Trolls (in broad daylight?!) and pointing out the old bird’s nest which one of them was wearing behind his ear. This is the prelude to laughter followed by a relaxed lunch sitting between the Trolls’ stone legs.

Chapter 2.1

In Rivendell, in conversation with Bilbo and Frodo, Aragorn laughs about his nickname “Strider”, again making a joke of his treatment in Bree.


Chapter 2.6

When Aragorn uncovers Frodo’s mithril shirt while tending the wound he sustained in Moria he laughs, exclaiming: Look my friends! Here’s a pretty hobbit-skin to wrap an elven-princeling in! This is a further example of light relief, and also more serious relief as far as Aragorn is concerned as he realises that the shirt has actually prevented Frodo’s wound from being lethal.

Chapter 3.6

Following the debacle when Aragorn causes a scene about having to leave his sword at the door of Meduseld, Gandalf refuses to leave his staff behind. This is the cue for Aragorn to laugh and declare that: Every man has something too dear to trust to another, before urging Háma to let the old man keep his support. This lightening of what was a distinctly dodgy situation does actually persuade Háma to allow the staff to be taken into the hall.

Chapter 3.7

During the Battle of Helm’s Deep Aragorn, having narrowly escaped death, reaches the Hornburg in the nick of time, to be told by Legolas that Gimli is missing. As the two of them express their hope that the Dwarf will take refuge in the caves, Legolas says that he wants to see Gimli so he can tell him that his count of dead Orcs has gone up to 39. Aragorn laughingly replies: If he wins back to the caves he will pass your count again. Never did I see an axe so wielded. Given that he’d just arrived at the Hornburg exhausted, sweating and clearly shaken, this light relief was probably necessary to keep both of them from despair.

Chapter 3.10

When the Orthanc-stone is thrown out of the window in Isengard, Gandalf calls it: A parting shot from Master Wormtongue, I fancy, but ill-aimed. With dry humour Aragorn suggests that: The aim was poor, maybe, because he could not make up his mind which he hated more, you or Saruman.

Chapter 5.2

In The Passing of the Grey Company chapter, Aragorn has a stressful conversation with Legolas and Gimli following his challenge to Sauron in the Orthanc-stone. On hearing what Aragorn has done Gimli exclaims: Did you say aught to him? Aragorn answers: You forget to whom you speak. What do you fear that I should say to him? Then he calms down and speaks more gently. This is the version in the Second Edition of LotR and is not actually humorous. However the First Edition expanded this speech of Aragorn’s as follows: What do you fear that I should say: that I had a rascal of a rebel dwarf here that I would gladly exchange for a serviceable orc? Another use of humour in a stressful situation. Unfortunately Tolkien was persuaded to remove this passage by feedback from a reader.

Chapter 5.8

When Aragorn, Gandalf, Imrahil and Éomer enter the city of Gondor to go to the Houses of Healing, they meet Pippin in his role as Guard of the Citadel. The Hobbit greets Aragorn thus: Strider! How splendid! Do you know, I guessed it was you in the black ships but they were all shouting “corsairs” and wouldn’t listen to me. How did you do it? Although Imrahil is startled by the informality of this greeting, Aragorn is clearly  delighted at the encounter, laughing and taking Pippin’s hand with a promise of “travellers’ tales” later. The incident provides a moment of light relief prior to a gruelling night healing the victims of the Black Breath, plus the knowledge that Pippin is clearly alive and thriving. (They had last met when Pippin looked in the Orthanc Stone).

Moving on to Merry’s bedside in the Houses of Healing: when the Hobbit regains consciousness he expresses a desire to smoke his pipe. Aragorn gives a jokey imitation of the herb-master’s long-winded and unhelpful speech about Athelas by substituting the various names of Pipe-weed for those of the healing herb. This is a tension-releaser following his earlier exasperation at not having his request for Athelas taken seriously. It also indicates his relief that Merry is clearly making a good recovery.

Chapter 6.6

Finally, when the betrothal of Éowyn and Faramir is announced Aragorn declares: No niggard are you, Éomer, to give thus to Gondor the fairest thing in your realm! This jokey compliment to Éowyn signifies  final relief from the grief and stress he’d suffered during the time of her unrequited love for him. He follows it up by addressing her as “thou” for the first time, knowing that she won’t misinterpret his meaning.

Lynn’s observations on Humour for June

Tolkien and Humour: ‘Bombadil Goes Boating’

Intermittently over many years I have wondered why a medievalist of Tolkien’s intellectual breadth always appeared so cautious, or reluctant, in his construction and use of insulting and abusive language, when the spiritual aspect of medieval life and culture was constantly shadowed by the vibrant use of all kinds of language officially deemed sinful, disruptive, and liable to prosecution through various courts. While searching out material for the topic of humour I discovered the answer to my wondering.

The small poem ‘Bombadil Goes Boating’ is included in Scull and Hammond’s collection of Tolkien’s poems called The Adventures of Tom Bombadil and it is not one that grabbed my attention until now, but I have missed a little gem. Tolkien himself gave it the original title ‘The Fliting of Tom Bombadil’ and subsequently gave it alternative titles which also mentioned ‘fliting’. Often spelled ‘flyting’, this word means a lively exchange of insults and abuse. This can be taken seriously, and it has been deployed by poets to show off their subversive brilliance, but usually a ‘fliting’ is playful, and that is certainly Tolkien’s intention in this poem.

As Bombadil goes boating down the Withywindle he encounters a kingfisher, a willow warbler, an otter, several hobbits and Farmer Maggot, and exchanges insults with all of them. At first sight the language used looks threatening, violent, and from today’s point of view, verging on the politically incorrect. When the willow warbler teases Tom, he replies that if the bird tells Willow-man where he’s going he’ll skin and eat it. But the bird simply tells him ‘Catch me first’. The kingfisher tells him rudely, ‘Mind your tub don’t founder … I’d laugh to see you founder. Tom responds by contrasting his fine plumage with his ‘sloven’ nest and calls him a ‘dirty varlet’.

Scull and Hammond relate this to the actual vileness of a kingfisher’s nest hole, but they do not notice that this dirty bird is reminiscent of the insults from the Owl to the Nightingale in the medieval poem of that name which Tolkien also knew, because he used the name of Nicholas Guildford from that poem in his Notion Club Papers, and the Owl and the Nightingale uses the medieval fliting style.

The exchange of insults between Tom and Farmer Maggot is less literary. Maggot calls Tom a ‘beggarman’ and he calls Maggot ‘Muddy-feet…. You old farmer fat that cannot walk for wheezing …Penny-wise tub-on-legs’, but when Tom joins Maggot in his little wagon they drive off laughing together. And that is the point, it’s fun to exchange insults but the humour depends on those engaged in, or witnessing, the fliting knowing and accepting the conventions of this specific kind of humour.

This little poem fills in what seemed to me like a gap in Tolkien’s virtuoso display of linguistic diversity in the legendarium, and especially LotR. It also adds another dimension to the kinds of humour that are more familiar in his work.

Eileen’s Comments on Humour for June

I am submitting a rather short example of humour and thought-provking element -it is an example that continues to cause humour,and marvel at the way Tolkien involves his readers. I am focusing on the meeting between Bilbo and Gandalf,in ‘An Unexpected party’-
There is the description of the disparity between. the two characters;Bilbo the hobbit is short,fat around the stomach,and  Tolkien informs us is very comfortable with his life as it is; Gandalf is described as ‘an old man,with a staff,wearing a tall
pointed blue hat,and with a long white beard ;he,we are told,Is looking for someone to share an adventure-
Gandalf came upon Bilbo,while the latter was smoking his long wooden pipe by his door;
‘Good Morning!’ said Bilbo,
Gandalf’s reply was unexpected;
‘ What do you mean?’he said,’do you wish me a good morning,or mean that it is a good morning whether I want it or not;or that you feel good this morning;or that it is a morning to be good on?’
Here Tolkien is using playful language,with a serious undertone; By using the word Good,that give a different meaning ,he shows that clarity has been lost;he achieves this through the use of adjectives,and adverbs,question mark,and semi-colon.
Though his readers will probably find humour in Gandalf’s repeated emphasis on the word ‘good’,Tolkien. has alerted his
readers to the significance of using English language correctly-Tolkien’s insight by making language into a sort of game,will
eventually allow his readers to gradually absorb its more thought-povoking element. There is humour in the repeated ‘ Not the’,when Bilbo finally remembers who Gandalf the wizard actually is- ‘ Not the fellow. ‘Not the man’.‘Not the Gandalf’?  ‘
 Children,specially learn through repetition,especially ,as in this case,where there is an element of drama,and rhythm-
The humour is evident as Bilbo proves to be over-enthusiastic in his use of ‘ Not The’and he finally accepts that Gandalf is the wizard he says he is,and was,

Laura’s Zoom Presentation for June on Humour in Tolkien’s work

I should point out that there was no actual Zoom meeting for June, but some of us had written presentations anyway. This is Laura’s:

5th JUNE 2021

(The Hobbit and LOTR)

Always look on the dark side of life….

A sense of humour is not the first thing one thinks of when pondering on the nature of goblins and orcs. Generally other races do not find them funny either.

The Hobbit
The first time we come across goblins is at the unexpected party at Bilbo’s house when Gandalf says he was given the map of the Lonely Mountain by Thrain and that Thror was killed by Azog the Goblin. Therefore violence is our first introduction.
In A Short Rest, Elrond tells Gandalf and Thorin that the swords they rescued from the troll cave were made for the Goblin-wars – one sword is called Goblin-cleaver. Again we do not expect a race with a sense of fun but a violent one.
In Over Hill and Under Hill, goblins appear from the back of the cave, there is humorous writing about them because it is a children’s story. The goblins’ humour is a cruel humour. “The goblins…chuckled and laughed in their horrible stony voices..”, laughing at the dwarves’ capture.
As they take the dwarves, Bilbo and Gandalf further into the mountain, the goblins sing a marching song: “…while Goblins quaff and Goblins laugh…” indicating that the goblins have a good time while their prisoners suffer.
When they arrive in the cavern, the goblins, who are already there: “…laughed and stamped and clapped their hands…” obviously finding humour in the prisoners’ situation.
Goblins are described as: “…cruel, unkind and bad-hearted..” but definitely not having a sense of humour.
Tolkien has rarely used the word “orc” in The Hobbit preferring “goblin”. In our own legends, goblins mostly tend to be small and not frightening so this may take away some of the horror in The Hobbit as we are perhaps familiar with “goblin” but not “orc”.
In the chapter Out of the Frying Pan and into the Fire, wargs attack the party. Gandalf thwarts the attack by throwing burning pinecones at the wargs from up a pine tree. The goblins arrive late and learn what has happened. “Some of them actually sat down and laughed.” This seems to indicate a love of cruel slapstick. Unfortunately, because goblins can control fire, they decided to turn Gandalf’s weapon against him and set fire to the trees in which the dwarves, Bilbo and Gandalf are perched. “…they soon had a plan which seemed to them most amusing.”
Again the goblins sing highly unpleasant songs while the fires burn.
The goblins do not appear again (except a dead goblin in the chapter with Beorn) until the Battle of the Five Armies in which they are one of the armies and there is little humour then.

The Lord of the Rings
Goblins are promoted to Orcs in LOTR, a more terrifying race. The companions have a sense of their evil going through Moria. Extracts from Ori’s book describes the dwarves who moved into Moria being attacked by orcs which is a pre-echo of what is about to happen.
The key chapter regarding orcish humour is The Uruk-Hai. This covers the action from when a mixed group of orcs have captured Merry and Pippin. When Pippin comes to and struggles: “….one of the orcs sitting near laughed and said something to a companion in their abominable tongue.” They are enjoying a joke together and have now become individuals.
“We’ll find a use for your legs before long. You’ll wish you had got none before we get home.” This is the blackest sort of sarcasm designed to frighten although it is rather offset by an image of home.
The exchange between Uglúk and Grishnákh is littered with sarcasm. There is no sense that we should find them funny; they are not cockney figures of fun. Grishnákh says sarcastically when the orcs are surrounded by the Rohan riders: “Fine leadership! I hope the great Uglúk will lead us out again”. There is almost a sense of “flyting” in the conversations between Uglúk and Grishnákh ie in their insults based on the fact that they are different tribes. (Thank you, Lynn, for introducing that in Shakespeare!) Although oddly I would have expected their insults to be more perverse eg “You mother was a she-elf! How very dare you…”
Uglúk has to drag Pippin up by his hair and “Several orcs laughed”. Again a taste for cruel slapstick.
Merry asks Pippin about bed and breakfast. Uglúk tells him: “You’ll get bed and breakfast all right; more than you can stomach.” Again sarcasm designed to frighten and again the rather prosaic image of bed and breakfast!
In The Choices of Master Samwise, Gorbag and Shagrat find Frodo after has been stung by Shelob. Gorbag wants Shagrat’s orcs to stop making a noise but he tells him “so let ‘em laugh!”
The exchange between the two orcs is almost like two non-commissioned officers talking about the brass hats and noting that how positive the upper echelons are about the war when the soldiers know it’s not going well.

Shagrat refers to Gollum as Shelob’s “Sneak”, reminiscent of Sam’s accusations. Shelob is called “Her Ladyship” and the Nazgul as “the Big Bosses”. This shows another aspect of the orcish humour in trying to deflect the true horror of the situation by giving nicknames. There is possibly a touch of dry humour and understatement here calling a monstrous spider “Her Ladyship”.
Their humour continues to be cruel. When the orcs found “old Ufthak” after he had been stung and tied up by Shelob, he was wide awake and glaring. “How we laughed!” They didn’t rescue him though.
Irony is used in the discussion about Frodo in reference to Barad-dur. “I don’t suppose he’s ever been in lovely Lugburz…..This is going to be more funny than I thought.”

Goblins and orcs do have a sense of humour but it is a combination of cruel slapstick, sarcasm, irony and sadism and they derive enjoyment from the pain of others. Morgoth made orcs as a mockery of elves. Was the sense of humour acquired as part of the gene manipulation? It is tempting to compare their sense of humour with that of the elves who do not seem to have one in LOTR. The elves are humorous in The Hobbit eg when they tease Bilbo about being too big to get through keyholes and also when the butler and chief guard are discovered drunk.
Tolkien discusses the origins and nature of orcs in at least two long letters but he has never suggested a sense of humour!