Laura’s presentation for April: The Senses

24th April 2021

I did divert briefly into the Sixth Sense ie when people (of any race) feel that there is something odd, meant to be etc. Fate/faery/fey. Also when senses are mixed such as synaesthesia particularly in cats’ flehmen reaction to something when they taste and smell at the same time!

Is this the least attractive of the senses?! There is Amon Hen, the Hill of the Eye; Amon Lhaw, the Hill of the Ear but there is no Amon for the Nose! Is smell the least sensitive sense in humans?
There is the smeller and the smellee; who is smelling and who is giving off a smell!

In the very first sentence in the description of a hobbit hole in An Unexpected Party – In an hole in the ground etc! : “…(not) filled with ends of worms or an oozy smell..” “Oozy” is not a word we associate with smell, more sight and sound but it so descriptive of damp compost!
Chapter 3: A Short Rest
When the party arrives at Rivendell: “The smell of the pine trees made him drowsy…” Also: “Hmmm! smells likes elves!” thought Bilbo.” This latter quote intrigued us before. In an earlier version, Tolkien wrote “..feels like elves” which is also as intriguing. What do elves smell like? Flowers, woods or simply of another race?
Chapter 12: Inside Information
Smaug says to Bilbo who is invisible: “Well thief! I smell you and I feel your air. I hear you breathe…” Smaug doesn’t recognise what Bilbo is and is confused, which confirms Gandalf’s insistence on including him in the party.

The Fellowship of the Ring. Chapter 3 Three is Company.
“.. The riding figure sat quite still with its head bowed as if listening. From inside the hood came a noise as of someone sniffing to catch an elusive scent; the head turned from side to side of the road.” This has got to be the most vivid and frightening example of the sense of smell as a further introduction to the Nazgul. Frodo says “…I felt certain he was looking or smelling for me;….” This could be the Black Rider using his sixth sense.
As we know, the Nazguls’ normal senses when they were men have faded as their bodies have faded into their half world. It is possible that other senses have sharpened such as their sixth sense telling them where the Ring is. Aragorn says on Weather Top: “..and at all times they smell the blood of living things, desiring it and hating it. Senses, too, there are other than sight or smell.”
FOTR Chapter 11 A Knife in the Dark.
“Fatty Bolger had had a fear of dread growing on him all day.” This is Fatty’s sixth sense coming into play; it’s also a clever device to increase the sense of intrusion of something horrific into the comfort of everyday.

Orcs have been bred to be trackers with an increased sense of smell. This has all the horror of Saruman and Sauron tinkering with race. Other orcs call them snufflers.

Luthien smells like flowers but she does not fool Carcharoth who can smell or sense something strange about the disguised Beren and Luthien even though he has seen werewolves and vampire bats before. It may be his heightened wolf sense of smell.

There are things that smell nice to the Free Peoples but smell horrible to those who have been ensnared by the Ring for example athelas smells lovely and wholesome such as in the Houses of Healing. Gollum does not like the smell (and taste) of herbs and lembas. There are bad smells of decay such as The Dead Marshes, the Watcher in the Water (“There was a hideous stench”) and the trolls’ cave although their mutton had a toothsome smell. Different animals or people may smell different odours from the thing or person that is being smelled.
(Many thanks to Paul Kocher, author of Master of Middle-Earth, the achievement of JRR Tolkien for his insight into sense perceptions.)
Chris found the part in the Land of Shadow, the Return of the King, when one orc is berating a tracker orc who has “wide and snuffling nostrils”. The tracker orc says: “No good wearing out my nose on stones any more.” The big orc refers to him as a “snuffler”.
Lynn said that the mediaeval view of Hell was that it was a place, not just of fire, but dreadful stenches. As the angels fell becoming demons tradition has it that they gave off awful smells. She thinks of Shelob’s lair as Hell. In the mediaeval tradition, the “odour of sanctity” helps to sanctify saints is that the body is uncorrupted and smells beautiful. Chris pointed out that there was a whole chapter on the sanctity of a saint in Brothers Karamazov by Dostoevsky.
With regards to the elves’ smell, elvish women would know about perfume herbs as well as medical ones.

Eileen’s for April: The Senses

Part one refers to how essential touch is; I know I’ve commented on this scene before, but this time I chose to emphasise the power of the sense of ‘touch’, particularly with reference to Gollum, and, of course facilitated by Tolkien’s input in allowing us to observe the effect of change, without the hobbits’ knowledge.

The Five Senses

The one I found most moving, to date, was the scene from ‘The Stairs of Cirith Ungol’, when Gollum found the two hobbits, Frodo and Sam asleep in a trusting embrace; Frodo’s head was resting in Sam’s lap, with Sam’s arm holding him protectively; their embrace appeared to mesmerise Gollum-perhaps something of the trust and love he saw affected him, as it did us; we realized how precious they are to each other, and this portrayal of love and trust is one of joy.

Tolkien writes ‘Gollum looked at them. A strange expression passed over his lean and hungry face; the gleam faded from his eyes, and they went dim, and grey; old and tired’ Tolkien describes how Gollum put out a trembling hand , and touched Frodo’s knee; then Tolkien comments significantly-‘but almost the touch was a caress. ’ This has an effect on us; we look at Gollum with new eyes-we recall the pity that Frodo had for him on occasions-and we realise that Frodo was right to spare his life then -however, there have been times when Gollum is portrayed as an evil hobbit who is in fact, guiding the hobbits towards danger-so there is a conflict within Gollum, draw to the malevolence of the ring at all costs-and this potential for change, as movingly described here.

Tolkien remarks tellingly ‘for a fleeting moment, could one of the sleepers have seen him, they would have thought that they beheld an old weary hobbit, shrunken by the years that had carried him far beyond his time.’ and refers to him as ‘an old, starved pitiable thing’ Tolkien has invited us to be party to how Gollum would be portrayed had he not been corrupted by the ring, for a long time-Tolkien has shown us the importance of being just- to scrutinise as  carefully as possible. There is an element of the ‘ Ideal’ here e.g. how God would have judged—Tolkien shows us this ‘ Ideal’- but we as humans are still confused by the make-up of the complex Gollum, (malevolent, with potential for good.)

Shelob’s Lair

There are several senses to focus on here, the most overpowering is ‘smell’-even before the hobbits (supposedly guided by Gollum for a time), reach the entrance to the cave that leads them to the tunnel Sam complained, ‘that smell, it’s getting stronger and stronger’. The hobbits trudged through the stony terrain , and eventually came to the entrance to the cave; out of it came a stench a ‘foul reek’, they passed inside, and found themselves in a tunnel where there was impenetrable dark (there is lack of sight here)Tolkien writes ‘here the air was still, stagnant, heavy and sound fell dead’. There is no sound, so the hobbits have been deprived of their hearing; of the black vapour in the tunnel, Tolkien writes this ‘brought blindness, not only to the eyes, but to the mind.’ The hobbits have lost the ability to think clearly. Tolkien writes, ’Night always had been, and always would be, and night was all’. This comes across as a place of nightmares, of horror, and the remark ‘always would be’, evokes an eternal hell. The hobbits, at first, could feel their painful fingers, and feet, but after struggling to follow the path, their senses became numb. Soon they sensed that the ‘blind dark’ became thicker, and Tolkien comments on ‘some resistance thicker than the foul air’; the hobbits felt things brush against their heads, and legs, long tentacles, or hanging growths’.

In the last chapter, we were party to a pitiable portrayal of Gollum. In ‘Shelob’s Lair’, we know he is leading them towards a horrific fate. Tolkien has contrasted the two sides to the character that is Gollum—now we despise him for his evil betrayal.

There is relief when Sam left the tunnel-side, and made his way towards Frodo and ‘their hands met and clasped’. Tolkien has again revealed the essential sense of touch, and how it provides inner strength, as one gives, and the other receives-the word ‘clasp’ denotes the resolve of each, and of their mutual trust and affection. It’s a lovely touch, and it lightens the evil surrounding them.

Soon Frodo came to a void in the left-hand wall; he almost fell sideways, when he saw a rock, with an opening far wider than they had encountered. Tolkien writes, ‘and out of it came a reek so foul, and a sense of lurking malice so intense that Frodo reeled. And at that moment Sam lurched and fell forward’. Here, our sense of fear for the survival of the hobbits is almost unbearable. Frodo realises that all the foul reeks emanates from that wide opening. He urges Sam to go ‘up’ quickly. He managed to drag Sam to his feet, and forced his own limbs to move. They managed to get to 6 steps, and found it was easier to move as if some ‘hostile will for the moment had released them’. Eventually, they came to a fork in the tunnel, groping and fumbling in the dark, the found the opening on the left was blocked-so they were forced to go right. Almost immediately Sam felt that they were being watched; after a few moments they heard horrific sounds-of gurgling, bubbling, and a hissing. Fearful, they waited. Sam wished that ‘old Tom’ could rescue them. Then as he stood in the darkness, he saw a light; a light in his mind, one that was ‘unbearably bright at first’; then the light changed to beautiful colours. Tolkien writes ‘green gold, silver, white; far off in a little picture drawn by elven fingers, he saw the Lady Galadriel standing on the grass’; Sam saw gifts in her hands; he called Frodo, ’master, master, the star-glass; Frodo answers ‘’a light when all other lights go out!’ It seems that this special light may help them.

Angela’s Presentation for April: The Senses

Southfarthing ZOOM meeting 24/04/2021

“Fool of a Took”? Maybe not

A superficial examination of Pippin’s behaviour shows him as being rather thoughtless and stupid, potentially endangering himself and his companions. However it is not as simple as that and I identified a number of factors which should be taken into account when considering his actions:

  • Unseen forces
  • Obsessions
  • Interest in “magic”
  • Extra-sensory episodes, even foresight in some instances
  • The long-term result of his actions.

Looking at the main incidents (in chronological order):

  1. Reckless chattering about Bilbo’s farewell party in the crowded bar of the Prancing Pony, leading to Frodo’s disastrous attempt to draw attention away from him. [ LotR 1.9]

Was Pippin’s behaviour really just down to thoughtlessness though? Or was the Ring influencing him too?

Looking at the long-term result I wonder if this incident was a deciding factor in the Hobbits’ acceptance of Strider as their guide? They had not been joined by Gandalf (as they had hoped) and must have known they were out of their depth.

2: Throwing the stone down the well in Moria.  [ LotR 2.4]

We are told that Pippin felt curiously attracted by the well and when he threw the stone he was Moved by a sudden impulse… possible influence from outside?

The long-term result of this incident was that it caused the loss of Gandalf thereby forcing the rest of the Company to sort things out for themselves.

3: Lothlórien: he looked at the Elvish cloaks in wonder and asked if they were magic? [LotR 2.8]

An example of Pippin’s interest in things out of the ordinary

4: Behaviour while travelling with the Orcs  [LotR 3.3]

As Pippin regained consciousness in an Orc camp he remembered that he and Merry had run off and taken no notice of old Strider. What had come over them? he wondered, evidently realising that something uncanny had been going on as they would not normally have dreamed of disobeying Aragorn in an emergency. At that point Pippin would have assumed that Aragorn had gone to Mordor with Frodo and Sam, but then we read the following passage (the emphasis is mine) :

Every now and again there came into his mind unbidden a vision of the keen face of Strider bending over a dark trail, and running, running behind. Then,  A sudden thought leaped into Pippin’s mind…”. There is a clear indication that things were “happening” to him outside his control. That, combined with quick wits, initiative and an understanding of what signs a tracking Ranger would need, led him to run aside briefly from the trail, leaving some of his own footprints unmixed with those of the Orcs, and dropping his Lothlórien brooch as a further sign.

In the previous chapter (LotR 3.2) we have already read that Aragorn had found Pippin’s brooch and

footprints, commenting to Legolas and Gimli: Not idly do the leaves of Lórien fall. He perceived exactly what was in Pippin’s mind, and Pippin, though he felt that logically Aragorn would have accompanied Frodo to Mordor, knew subconsciously from his vision that he was actually following the Orcs.

His perceptive powers showed again when he and Merry were being tormented by the Mordor Orc Grishnákh. It was Pippin who sensed that Grishnákh knew – or guessed – about the Ring.

5: Stealing the Palantír of Orthanc from Gandalf and looking in it, thus encountering Sauron [LotR 3.10/11]

This is another example of a situation where his actions appeared to be at least partly due to forces outside his control. One of these seems to have been the Palantír itself due to its corruption by Sauron, but were there other forces – forces which were trying to get it back to its rightful owner? Pippin had been obsessed with it after saving it from falling into a pool. He couldn’t sleep for thinking about it and he was desperate to ride with Gandalf (instead of Aragorn) the next day – presumably because he had the Palantír. When he took it from the sleeping Wizard that night he was “Driven by some impulse that he did not understand …” This impulse then led him on to actually look into it.

From this incident, Aragorn and Gandalf realised that the globe was one of the seven Seeing-stones which had been brought to Middle-earth by Elendil after the drowning of Númenor. They also now realised that it had been used as the means of communication between Saruman in Orthanc and Sauron in Barad-dûr who, evidently, also had access to a Palantír. Gandalf accordingly presented it to Aragorn – as its rightful owner – thus enabling Aragorn to use it to draw Sauron’s attention away from Frodo – a very significant and crucial diversion as it turned out. At the Last Debate he said I deemed that the time was ripe, and that the Stone had come to me for just such a purpose. [LotR 5.9] This showed that he himself regarded his acquiring of the Palantír as a turning-point in his final struggle to defeat Sauron, and Pippin had been instrumental in bringing this about.

After the end of the War of the Ring Aragorn took leave of Gandalf and the Hobbits at the same place where Pippin had looked in the Stone. [LotR 6.6]  It could be argued that this was merely a convenient spot for him to turn back, but he must have, consciously or unconsciously, regarded the place as significant. Certainly the Palantír was uppermost in Pippin’s mind at this farewell scene and he expressed a wish for the Hobbits to have one as well so they could keep in touch with distant friends. Did he still feel the pull of it?

[Aragorn made it quite clear that he was going to keep the Orthanc Stone himself!]

6: Realising it was Strider in the Black Ships [LotR 5.8]

When Pippin and Aragorn met each other unexpectedly in Minas Tirith following the Battle of the Pelennor Fields Pippin exclaimed: 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? Why did Pippin alone hold that view? Was this another example of him being influenced by the strange impulses and visions to which he seemed prone? A while ago I did actually work out a more mundane explanation, but the vision/extra-sensory argument can’t be rejected, and Christopher Tolkien himself referred to a possible strange presentiment (HoM-e VIII Part 3, Chapter 11, p. 391) as a reason for Pippin’s view.




Why was Pippin like this? I have my own theory even though JRRT himself rubbished it!


LotR Prologue refers to the different types of Hobbit: Harfoots, Stoors and Fallowhides. Pippin’s folk, the Tooks, were largely of the Fallowhide variety who tended to be taller and slimmer that the others, and also – in the past – more friendly with Elves. In the first chapter of The Hobbit Tolkien refers to a tradition that one of the Tooks must have taken a fairy wife, before going on to say that this was absurd. However I quite like this theory. Elves and Men sometimes intermarried, and as the Tooks belonged to a variety of Hobbit (a species not dissimilar to Men in many ways) who were taller and more slender than the norm and liked the company of Elves then why would this not have happened? We’re not necessarily talking about the High Elves here, but maybe a more rustic wood-elf perhaps? It may have explained a few things!



Laura wondered whether Pippin’s mind is more open?

Ian suggested that from a writing perspective perhaps Tolkien was balancing out the creation of mystery. If there was too much readers might not see the underlying philosophy, but if insight is given to one character this keeps the focus on mystery, it is not diluted, because the author wants to express a deper philosophy.

Chris’s presentation for April: The Senses



            A striking feature in LotR is the role played by what may be described as enhanced senses. The normal senses of sight, hearing, touch, smell and taste as well as the sixth sense of extra sensory perception are frequently given additional powers well beyond those possessed by the average person. There are so many examples that I will just mention a few as background information before discussing the possible reasons why Tolkien gave them such importance.


            Enhanced sight and hearing are a specific characteristic of the race of the elves. Legolas can see and hear things before others although such skills are also found in other races such as men for example in Aragorn, ‘Yes,’ said Strider, whose keener sight left him in no doubt. ‘The enemy is here!’  as well as Aragorn’s keen sense of hearing as shown when he puts his head to the ground to listen for any sign of the enemy. Aragorn can also be used as an example of the sense of touch as he uses this sense to help heal those stricken by the Black Breath, for instance Faramir “Now Aragorn knelt beside Faramir, and held a hand upon his brow. And those that watched felt that some great struggle was going on.” Touch is also used by Ghân-buri-Ghân when he “squatted down and touched the earth with his horny brow in token of farewell.”  and through this touch is able to tell Théoden that the wind is changing. The sense of smell is used by Gandalf to decide which way to go when lost in the Mines of Moria as “he did not like the smell of the left-hand way. “ The sixth sense has many examples with characters foreseeing something is going to happen or  sensing danger.


            Why then does Tolkien make so much of the senses? It could be that it provides a simple way of enabling the development of the action without the need for detailed explanations as to why  the characters can see or hear the enemy when the enemy is so far away or, as in the case of Gandalf, picking the chosen path by sense of smell. These enhanced sensual abilities thus allow a simple method of bypassing potential pitfalls in the development of the plot.


            Another use could be as a means to heighten the tension in particular scenes as, having heightened sensual awareness, the characters can show greater fear and foreboding as they are more aware of what is around them. I am sure this will be brought out in the more detailed analyses of particular characters or events by the other contributors.


            Tolkien also seems to use the senses to show how people are connected to nature and the natural world. Ghân-buri-Ghân , for instance, as already described can predict the change in the wind by touching the ground and receiving some sort of signal back with this news. It is as though by touching the ground he can communicate with the natural forces in the world. In the same way Aragorn can transmit healing through touching the patient. “For it is said in old lore: The hands of the king are the hands of a healer. And so the rightful king could ever be known.”


            Heightened sensual powers are also gained by exposure to the Ring as shown by both Gollum and Frodo.  This could indicate that as the Ring holds a part of Sauron (a Maia) these powers are part of  higher beings and that these powers can also be passed on to elves and mortals when required. So although elves were chosen to have above normal sight and hearing only selected mortals were given certain sensual enhancements. It is also clear that when the need arises any character can be endowed with a temporary heightened sense as is the case with Sam when he is in a desperate situation with Shelob, for “answering a sudden thought that came to him, he drew slowly out the phial of Galadriel and held it up.” This sudden thought that came to him was clearly sent to him by Galadriel thus giving Sam a temporary heightened sixth sense in order to receive it.


            As can be seen senses play an important role in LotR.



We discussed the degree to which the senses were associated with artefacts including as means of enhancement and Laura wondered about this in relation to each wizard’s staff. She also remarked that Tolkien’s attention to enhanced senses picks up the fact that compared to other creatures we are lacking in most senses.

Lynn’s presentation for April: The Senses


Zoom presentation on the Senses

Hearing: sound and the learning of fear

This presentation covers only a small section of Book 1 of The Fellowship of the Ring, from chapters III to VII, and is influenced by the Reading Group’s occasional discussions on the ‘learning process’ that the hobbits undergo in the story.

My argument is that the hobbits begin to learn fear as they hear uncanny sounds, most disconcertingly the scream of the Black Riders in ‘A Short Cut to Mushrooms’, but they also learn to fear ordinary sounds, particularly hoof-beats. On the first occasion Sam hears them and Frodo thinks they may indicate Gandalf’s long-delayed return to the Shire, and he says that by hiding he can play a trick on Gandalf for his lateness, but in fact hiding is not a playful impulse, but a desire to hide, suggesting he already feels fear, although he excuses it to Sam and Pippin. However, when he hears the Rider sniffing he unequivocally feels fear.

This is more complex than it seems because the Riders’ most potent weapon is fear, and it may be that it is this that interacts with the Ring to create the urge Frodo feels to put on the Ring and thereby reveal its location. While Frodo is close to giving in to the temptation the Rider suddenly moves away and the tension relaxes, but Frodo admits that he found the encounter ‘disturbing’. This is the start of the learning process associating hoof-beats with fear. It is repeated, with variations, just before the hobbits encounter Gildor and his company, reinforcing the link.

The force of the association, and its power to change the meaning of sound, becomes apparent when Farmer Maggot takes the hobbits to the ferry. In the fog they hear approaching hoof-beats again: ‘they heard what they had all been dreading’, and they see a cloaked figure. When Farmer Maggot bravely challenges the apparition it turns out to Merry. The narration is enlightening: ‘As he came out of the mist and their fears subsided, he seemed suddenly to diminish to ordinary hobbit-size’. What they hear has not only generated fear but this has then altered their visual perception – if only briefly.

This learned response to fear seems different to Merry’s subsequent declaration in Crickhollow that all the Conspirators are ‘horribly afraid’, when he announces their determination to go on the quest with Frodo. This is perhaps fear of the unknown, or barely known, not a learned response to hearing things that signify imminent peril, or indeed that signify that fear is an attribute of the Black Riders. From this perspective, it also sounds rather like a conventional expression of apprehension mixed with excitement before an ‘adventure’.

It also becomes apparent that hearing and sight act together to create fear, but hearing acts powerfully in the absence of sight, or when it is confused. In the Old Forest it is the absence of sound that contributes to a threatening feeling. Even Pippin’s shout is muffled by the trees, and here the hoof beats of the ponies sound unnaturally loud, while any sounds the hobbits make adds to the unnerving hostility they feel in the heavy silence. What they hear, and what they cannot hear, becomes equally menacing.

Fear engendered by soft sounds is now focussed primarily on Old Man Willow which has the power to disperse Frodo’s frantic cries for help and drown them with the rustling of leaves. This use of soft, delicate sounds with unnatural results is unnerving and alters the perception of the balance of power, although the soft ‘sniffing’ of the Black Rider has already introduced the idea that soft sounds may indicate peril and so evoke fear. Although the balance of power is shifted when Frodo hears Tom Bombadil’s loud and boisterous song, it is not until the hobbits reach Tom’s house that their ‘fears fall away’.

Hearing Tom’s first song was a relief but although it was in sharp contrast in sound and power to the silence and softly threatening sounds of stasis that define the Forest, it is the sight of Tom capering along that really reassures the hobbits, and even in Tom’s house hearing things can arouse their fears again – as Goldberry acknowledges when she says ‘Heed no nightly noises’. This, of course, alerts hobbits and readers to the knowledge that something is likely to be making noises in the night – a creepy thought to go to bed with.

Maybe it is not surprising then that in his dream Frodo hears hoof beats again and questions his resolve to go on. Although his dream contains other ominous noises, it is these he still hears as he wakes. Pippin’s dream is full of the noise of the Willow creaking as it did when it trapped him. Merry’s dream is of falling water and the fear of drowning. Both Merry and Pippin wake in fear but are reassured and soothed by the recollection of hearing both Goldberry and Tom saying ‘Heed no nightly noise!’ Sam doesn’t dream, and it is noticeable that Frodo is not comforted by the recollection of hearing the ‘counterspell’ of Tom and Goldberry’s words.

Hearing is intimately connected with fear at the start of the hobbits’ journey. Sight may be an added factor – what can or can’t be seen both contribute to fear depending on circumstances, and the connection between hearing and fear comes not only from encounters from the unsettling or uncanny unknown but from a disparity between expectation and reality. The Black Rider’s scream is instantly recognisable as something evoking fear, but the sight of a strange rider and its weird sniffing are even under ordinary circumstances a combination to be treated warily. When that rider emanates fear, it is not an association to be dismissed, and begins to colour subsequent responses.

These incidents are, then, all part of the ‘apprenticeship to adventure’ that help to sharpen the wits of the hobbits before they confront even worse situations.


Laura reminded us that hobbits are noted for their ability to move silently, and that Bilbo in The Hobbit complained about the amount of noise the dwarves made.

Angela remarked that the absence of birds is noted by Aragorn as a bad sign, and that the Grey Company are described as ‘Silent Men’.

My survey of hearing and sound was too brief to include ideas of good and bad silence, but it deserves notice.

Eileen’s paper for March: Hope and Courage

Hope and Courage as portrayed by Tolkien-

I’m focusing mainly on 3 wizards, though referencing others where relevant. It’s necessary to go back a little to get the full picture.

Introduction; the main wizard is Gandalf the grey, and he is assembled along with others, including Aragon at the Council of Elrond, where urgent discussions are taking place; Aragon has revealed how he captured Gollum and placed them in the care of the elves, who promptly imprisoned him; he had been in possessionof the ring for many years; the ring was powerful and evil, and this corruption was spreading as far as the shire; and spies were sent by the enemy to try and retrieve it- but those assembled were dismayed when Legolas told them that Gollum had escaped from the prison, and his whereabouts were unknown. Gandalf’s view on Gollum was significant ‘he may play a part yet that neither Saruman nor Sauron had forseen’, so an element of hope here, that they may yet succeed in their task to destroy the ring.


The three wizards have links with Hope and Courage they are Gandalf, Saruman, and Radagast. The latter relays an urgent message from Saruman that he would help him protect the shire from evil and wished to meet him speedily. After delaying till the following day Gandalf eventually arrives at Saruman’s dwelling. He tells those assembled that as he rode through the gate he ‘felt fear’. This sense of foreboding is a possible warning that danger lurks. However we remember then that before he rode to the meeting Gandalf urged Radagast the Brown to tell his friends: beasts and birds about the arrangement. He also had written to Frodo about the meeting and sent to his friend the innkeeper at Bree whom he trusted would make sure Frodo got it. So although there is a sense of foreboding there is also a glimmer of hope.


But when Gandalf met Saruman his and our sense of fear was justified; here was not the learned Saruman the White but a portrayal of a sinister being. Tolkien has portrayed a horrible change in Saruman. From the start he tries to undermine Gandalf and scoffs and sneers, ‘it has seldom been heard of that Gandalf the grey sought for aid’. Gandalf faces Saruman and replies ‘but if I am not deceived, things are now moving which will require the union of all our strength’. Saruman retaliates, ‘How long have you concealed from me, the head of the council, a matter of the greatest import.’ He adds using offensive language ‘what brings you now from your lurking place in the shire?’ He is trying to undermine Gandalf with his continual offensive language, tone and behaviour. He scornfully refers to Radagast as ‘the simple’ and ‘the fool’, and ‘yet he had just the wit to play the part I set for him for you are come and that was all the purpose of my message’. He adds ‘and here you will stay, Gandalf the grey…’.


Gandalf thought of Radagast and remembered that his sense of urgency was real, ‘he sought me in good faith and so persuaded me’. Gandalf then reveals to the council ‘that was the undoing of Saruman’s plot for Radagast knew of no reason why he should not do as I asked and he rode away towards Mirkwood where he had many friends of old and the eagles of the mountains went far and wide and they saw many things’.


Saruman, after previously taking pride in the different colour of his robes, and calling himself Saruman the wise, now spoke in a softer, wheedling tone to Gandalf; he talks of a ‘ New Power’rising up, and wanted both he and Gandalf to control it, and everyone in it; Gandalf refuses to take part in Saruman’s plan, and reveals to those assembled that he has ’unmasked himself at last’ Gandalf was then taken prisoner ‘they took me and set me alone on the pinnacle of Orthanc, where Saruman was accustomed to watch the stars, and ’I stood alone on an island in the clouds! and there was no chance of escape’ tellingly he also reveals ’fear was ever in my heart for my friends in the shire’. Gandalf was eventually rescued by an eagle, called Gwailin, the wind land, the swiftest of all the great eagles, and his ordeal with his once friend and now enemy has ended.


The characters of Gandalf and Saruman are contrasted in Tolkien’s portrayal- in Gandalf we see courage despite fear, and his ability to hope despite threats, and in spite of the greatest danger, and under threat of possible torture as a prisoner of Saruman, his words ‘fear was ever in my heart for my friends’-this reveals his true love for others, and his bravery despite the terrible situation he was in. He didn’t think of himself. In the fallen wizard, Tolkien has portrayed a character that has elements of Lucifer, once beloved by God-but he was banished from heaven for committing the sin of pride, he saw himself as being above God, and for trying to usurp His authority, he was sent to earth where he spread evil in many ways and under many guises; This is the essence of Saruman. He mocks, abuses, undermines and scorns Gandalf’s comments. He is trying to break Gandalf’s spirit and then have Gandalf agree to the ‘new power’-but Gandalf remains steadfast and courageous. Saruman then adopted a softer tone in an effort to get Gandalf to join with him in controlling this ‘new power’-again there is similarity with Lucifer when he spreads evil throughout the world and controls many. Saruman is proud of his robes that have many colours which conceal his evil intentions. Lucifer too was proud of his appearance. He was loved by god and was referred to as beautiful—but he became the fallen angel by disrespecting god’s will.


Chris’s March Zoom Presentation: Hope and Courage


When I thought about what part courage played in the Lord of the Rings it seemed to me that Tolkien had bestowed this characteristic on the majority (if not all) of his characters.

Just going through the various races proves this point. Clearly no one would question Merry, Pippin, Sam and Frodo’s bravery given the part they played in the destruction of the Ring. Yet bravery and courage was also shown by many other Hobbits such as Fatty Bolger who raised the alarm when the Nazgûl raided the farm and  Lobelia who, after being incarcerated, walked out of the lock-holes in a sign of defiance. Even Gollum shows a great deal of courage which Tolkien describes in letter 181 as “courage and endurance, as great as Frodo’s and Sam’s or greater”. Praise indeed.

Men are equally courageous with obvious examples being Aragorn, Faramir, Éomer, Boromir, Halbarad and the many other soldiers and commanders. Women, such as Éowyn, show their bravery in equal measure to the men.

Elves and Dwarves show similar traits with Legolas and Gimli fighting at the front of many battles. Ents, although reticent at first, risk being burnt in their battle with Saruman at Isengard. Wizards, as depicted by Gandalf, show similar bravery as do the Drúedain when Ghân-buri-Ghân offers to give up his life if he does not lead Théoden’s forces safely through the Drúadan Forest.

Even animals and birds are shown to be brave with the role of the Eagles standing out in their rescue of Sam and Frodo from Mount Doom and various other more militarily active participation in battles such as the Battle of the Five Armies in the Hobbit.

When it comes to artificially created races such as orcs such courage is not so clear as, although they did have courage, it was often forced on them by the will of Sauron. In the final battle before the Gates of Mordor the orcs lose all their courage as Sauron’s thoughts are turned to the Ring being discovered on Mount Doom as the orcs “spell-enslaved, ran hither and thither mindless; and some slew themselves, or cast themselves in pits, or fled wailing back to hide in holes and dark lightless places far from hope” Such weakness is not shown by men in Sauron’s forces who “were men proud and bold, in their turn now gathered themselves for a last stand of desperate battle.”

What can be made of this surfeit of courage as it is clearly there for a purpose? One possible answer is using this as a way of highlighting incidences when a person’s courage fails. I am sure Tolkien must have witnessed this in the First World War when brave men would suddenly display a lack of courage because of the pressures they were under. Examples in LotR include Gimli going to pieces when they pass through the Paths of the Dead, even though being a Dwarf, he should be happy underground. Similarly, when Aragorn leads his troops to do battle before the Gates of Mordor, a section of his forces say they do not have the courage to face the Dark Lord, so Aragorn gives them an equally honourable task of retaking and defending Cair Andros. Such a decision allows Tolkien to stress the importance of pity which allows some of these soldiers to take heart and overcome their fear and continue to Mordor as well as giving the others a task equal to their strength.

This abundance of courage is also used as a means of contrasting it with those people who do not seem to have it. Wormtongue is one example who refuses to accept an honourable offer to redress his bad deeds, namely to go to war with Théoden,  He therefore appears weak and is a person not to be respected. However, in the end, even he shows courage when he stabs and kills Saruman. Perhaps what Tolkien is trying to say is that everyone has some sort of red line beyond which they often need to show courage.

Perhaps the most intriguing question about courage concerns Sauron. Is he courageous or merely a coward hiding behind his superior powers over mortal men? The fact that he created the One Ring as a way of dominating all races in Middle-earth could be equated in today’s setting with Mark Zuckerberg sitting in his own ivory tower with large swathes of the population unwittingly feeding him all their personal information –  and as we know information is power. Such a person can hide behind closed doors and still control the world, but does that person have courage? One measure of courage would be their willingness to directly face their enemies in battle. Sauron did this in the Battle of the Last Alliance but at that point he was wearing the One Ring so, mistakenly, thought he had nothing to fear, so courage was not required. Mark Zuckerberg refused to attend a House of Commons Committee because he didn’t have the courage to defend the actions of his company. To avoid direct contact with the public both people use intermediaries to connect with the outside world, the Mouth of Sauron, a stolen Palantír and the Nazgûl for Sauron while  Zuckerberg uses his public relations executives e.g. Nick Clegg. It could be that Tolkien is trying to say that to be courageous you need to be doing something honourable which Sauron is clearly is not capable of doing. His poor orcs were, of course, doing their duty in an honourable way even though what they were doing was for an evil purpose. However they were built for that purpose and had no choice so cannot be blamed. Coming back to Gríma killing Saruman it could be argued that this act is the equivalent of an orc rebelling against Sauron, thus showing real courage.

Perhaps this is why hope is so important in Tolkien’s works as while there is courage there is always hope.

Angela’s March Zoom Presentation: Hope and Courage

Southfarthing ZOOM Meeting 13/3/2021

Hope Personified

Most of the information for this piece comes from LotR Appendix AIv (Part of the Tale of Aragorn and Arwen) plus Appendix B for the dates. [All emphasis in quoted passages is mine.]

The starting point is during the chieftainship of Aragorn’s grandfather Arador. Arador’s son Arathorn wished to marry Gilraen, daughter of Dírhael and Ivorwen. Dírhael was against the match partly because Gilraen was rather young for marriage and partly because he had a premonition that Arathorn was going to be short-lived. However Ivorwen said: The more need of haste! … If these two wed now, hope may be born for our people; but if they delay, it will not come while this age lasts. Thus she overruled her husband.

A lot happened over the next 5 years:

  • 2929 – Arathorn and Gilraen married.
  • 2930 – Arador killed by Trolls. Arathorn now Chieftain.
  • 2931 – Birth of Aragorn
  • 2933 – Arathorn killed by Orcs. Aragorn now Chieftain at the age of 2

To protect this vulnerable little Chieftain from an increasingly powerful Sauron who was desperate to find out whether Isildur’s line still survived, Aragorn and Gilraen were bundled off to Rivendell where Elrond took Aragorn in as his foster son. Because of the need for secrecy his real name could not be used. Thus – reflecting Ivorwen’s prophecy – he became known as “Estel” which was Sindarin for “Hope”. Eighteen years later, having only just been told of his true identity, he explained to Arwen at their first meeting: Estel I was called … but I am Aragorn, Arathorn’s son, Isildur’s Heir, Lord of the Dúnedain  …


This was not the end of the name “Estel“ though – or references to hope.

In 2980 as Aragorn and Arwen plighted their troth on Cerin Amroth in Lothlórien she said: Dark is the Shadow, and yet my heart rejoices; for you, Estel, will be among the great whose valour will destroy it. He answered:  Alas! I cannot foresee it and how it may come to pass is hidden from me. Yet with your hope I will hope.


In 3006 Aragorn visited his mother for what would be the last time. As he left she told him: This is our last parting, Estel, my son … I cannot face the darkness of our time that gathers upon Middle‑earth. I shall leave it soon. When he tried to comfort her she replied:

Ónen i-Estel Edain, ú-chebin estel anim

Translated as: I gave Hope to the Dúnedain, I have kept no hope for myself . The capital letter at the beginning of the first Estel/Hope is clearly significant.

In the chapter The Passing of the Grey Company Halbarad delivered a message to Aragorn from Arwen along with the battle standard she had made: Either our hope cometh or all hope’s end.

Finally in Aragorn’s deathbed scene, Arwen cries out Estel, Estel as he dies.

That name given to him as a child, partly to hide his identity, was used to the end by the two women in his life.




As for courage, Aragorn displayed it in a number of ways: in battle, in always trying to do what was right, and in endurance. However I’ve believed for a long time that the most courageous and dangerous thing he did was challenging Sauron in the Palantír of Orthanc.

Lynn’s March Zoom presentation: Hope and Courage

Zoom meeting 13th March 2021

Our topic this time is also the topic that has been proposed for Tolkien Reading Day on 25th of March. It proved to be very productive, although the presentations were mostly on the theme of ‘Courage’.

Lynn’s presentation on ‘Courage’

Following on from the liminality of seashores that I was looking at for our last Zoom, it occurred to me that most, if not all, the characters who show courage in LotR are in states of liminality, on the margins of the societies to which they nominally belong. Frodo, Bilbo and Sam are all regarded as strange, at least in the Shire. Aragorn is always the strange outsider, and it is perhaps not no surprise that Frodo and his hobbit companions meet ‘Strider’ in the equally luminal space of Bree.

Helper characters are more integrated. Legolas and Gimli and other rulers’ sons are not obviously marginal and there seems to be an expectation that they will be brave and trained as warriors. Boromir may by included in this category, but not Faramir. He is marginalised emotionally from his family, by education and by bereavement, and physically by location in Ithilien, and later in Osgiliath.

His courage is, however, expressed less in his confrontation at Osgiliath than in his rejection of the Ring and the help he gives Frodo as a consequence. His resistance to the temptation of the Ring may be the greatest act of courage shown by anyone.

But this raises the question ‘how should courage be defined?’ Is it the same impulse in all cases, and I concluded that it isn’t and that motivation of all kinds needs to be considered when examining acts of courage. Beregond, like Faramir, shows courage in defying Denethor’s orders. Then there is the vexed question of what motivates Eowyn’s courage? Surely, desperation in the first place, after Aragorn rejects her, but in defending her uncle that desperation is overcome by familial love. However, she can’t know the Witch King’s taboo, so her defence is may be the act of a trained shield maiden defending both her beloved kinsman, and her liege lord – a potent Anglo-Saxon combination.

Perhaps Elrond gives the most insightful analysis of courage when he and Gandalf consider whether Pippin and Merry should be allowed to go on the quest with Frodo. Elrond tells Pippin his demand is based on being uninformed: ‘you do not understand and cannot imagine what lies ahead’. So is courage at least partly defined as doing something in the full knowledge of how bad the dangers are? This seems possible especially in the case of Faramir and Beregond, but in Merry and Pippin’s case Gandalf’s response to Elrond adds another layer of information when he says that none of them knows what lies ahead.

Can we infer from this that courage becomes a catch-all term for a combination of devotion, determination, and enthusiasm enabled by a condition of ignorance, not as stupid but as lacking in precise information. For example, Pippin admits to not paying much attention to the information available in Rivendell, and Gandalf rebukes him for ‘bird’s nesting’ in his youth.

Courage is shown, then, to have underlying motivations and to come in various forms in LotR, as we might expect.



Mike suggested that courage is always observed by other people, and apparent courage may come from duty or training while real courage is someone taking action which would endanger the actor. E.g. Sam taking on Shelob, which is against Sam’s instinct.

Chris suggested that there is always hope where there is courage.

Julie argued that both Denethor and Eowyn had courage but no hope.

Chris added that Faramir has a greater intellectual capacity than Boromir.

Ian suggested a comparison between Isildur and Boromir and desire for the Ring: Isildur takes action, seeing the role as his responsibility, but he is not in a family hierarchy because Anarion is dead. If Anarion had been the survivor, would he have made a different choice to his brother?

Julie’s for February Zoom: the Sea

“The Sea-Bell”

A feature of Tolkien’s writing is how often he expresses the idea of the “sea-longing” – Elves, Men, even Hobbits, all exhibit symptoms of this. Early characters who exhibit this – Aelfwine (Eriol), Tuor, Voronwë, Earendil.

Other races seem more ambivalent. In Treebeard’s song of the Ent and Entwife the two protagonists sing about going into the West together, but would this involve the sea for them? “Together [they] will take the road that leads into the West”, but would this involve the sea? Only one Dwarf as far as we know (Gimli) ever sails West, and that is out of loyalty to his friend Legolas. The Orcs do not look to the West for obvious reasons.

Two famous examples of OE verse from the Exeter Book, i.e. “The Wanderer” and “The Sea-Farer” express the hardship and loneliness of characters who feel this sea-compulsion – whether they are about actual voyages or whether their main purpose is to function as allegories of Christian struggle. “He always has a longing who sets out on the sea” (“The Sea-farer”, line 47). Not a longing for the sea in itself as such but for what one will come to on the other side of it – haven or Heaven or both. The narrator of both poems seems to be wandering in search of lost time – friends, light, warmth, joy, the fellowship of the mead-hall, the generous reward-giving lord – these images could represent real loss, as well as serving as picture-language for what he hopes to gain in the future, after death.

In “The Lord of the Rings” two characters clearly express a desire to return westward across the sea to the undying lands of the Elves, but the language they use expresses ambivalent feelings. Galadriel sings wistfully:

O Lórien! Too long I have dwelt upon this Hither Shore
And in a fading crown have twined the golden elanor.
But if of ships I now should sing, what ship would come to me,
What ship would bear me ever back across so wide a Sea?

(“Farewell to Lórien”)

Later Saruman bitterly answers her question with a quotation from her own song:

‘You have doomed yourselves, and you know it. And it will afford me some comfort as I wander to think that you pulled down your own house when you destroyed mine. And now, what ship will bear you back across so wide a sea?’ he mocked. ‘It will be a grey ship, and full of ghosts.’

(“Many Partings”)

The last the reader sees of Legolas, he is walking away singing longingly about the Sea, as Galadriel foretold (“The White Rider”) – after he has delivered this message, ‘Gandalf fell silent and shut his eyes.’ Why would he do that? Misgivings?

‘To the sea, to the Sea! The white gulls are crying,
The wind is blowing, and the white foam is flying.
West, west away, the round sun is falling.
Grey ship, grey ship, do you hear them calling,
The voices of my people that have gone before me?
I will leave, I will leave the woods that bore mel
For our days are ending and our years failing.
I will pass the wide waters lonely sailing;
Long are the waves on the Last Shore falling,
Sweet are the voices in the Lost Isle calling,
In Eressëa, in Elvenhome that no man can discover,
Where the leaves fall not; land of my people for ever!’

(“The Field of Cormallen”)

Legolas sounds enthusiastic at first, but then he talks about the “grey ship” and a “lonely sailing” to the Lost Isle.

Frodo has a dream in the house of Tom Bombadil:

‘That night they heard no noises. But either in his dreams of out of them, he could not tell which, Frodo heard a sweet singing running in his mind: a song that seemed to come like a pale light behind a grey rain-curtain, and growing stronger to turn the veil all to glass and silver, until at last it was rolled back, and a far green country opened before him under a swift sunrise.’ (“Fog on the Barrow-Downs”)

It is a sweet vision, and pre-echoes the description in the antepenultimate paragraph of “The Lord of the Rings”, in which someone (we assume Sam) describes what Frodo smells, hears and sees as he comes to the end of his voyage into the West. Presumably at some point Frodo described his hopeful dream-vision to Sam.

But… not all is sweetness and light

“It is gone forever, and now all is dark and empty,” says Frodo on 13 March 1420. Presumably he means the Ring, but what else? Why should everything be dark and empty? The world of the Ring was itself dark and empty:

“Do you remember that bit of rabbit, Mr Frodo?” [Sam] said. “And our place under the warm bank in Captain Faramir’s country, the day I saw an oliphaunt?”
“No, I am afraid not, Sam,” said Frodo. “At least, I know that such things happened, but I cannot see them. No taste of food, no feel of water, no sound of wind, no memory of tree or grass or flower, no image of moon or star are left to me.” (“Mount Doom”.)

But seven years later (traditionally a significant period of time when mortals have dealings with Elves) and Tolkien published a collection of verse under the title “The Adventures of Tom Bombadil”. These poems were originally published in various organs in the 1930s, and then refurbished and published with illustrations by Pauline Baynes in 1962. The conceit again is that they are from the Red Book of Westmarch, just as is the story of the “Downfall of the Lord of the Rings” (as Tolkien calls it here).

The poem “The Sea-Bell” is a longer and transformed version of the old poem previously called “Looney”. Verlyn Flieger points out that “Looney” is reminiscent of Coleridge’s “The Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner” in that it begins with a dialogue between the narrator and a bystander. In “The Sea-Bell” the bystander has disappeared and it is just a monologue by the narrator. Tolkien seemed concerned that this poem does not fit with the rest of the material in the book. He carefully apologises for it in the mock-scholarly introduction:

“…No. 15 [“The Sea-Bell”], certainly of hobbit origin, is an exception [i.e. not light-hearted or frivolous, like most of the rest of the collection]. It is the latest piece and belongs to the Fourth Age; but it is included here because a hand has scrawled at its head Frodos Dreme. That is remarkable, and though the piece is most unlikely to have been written by Frodo himself, the title shows that it was associated with the dark and despairing dreams which visited him in March and October during is last three years. But there were certainly other traditions concerning Hobbits that were taken by the ‘wandering-madness’, and if they ever returned, were afterwards queer and uncommunicable. The thought of the Sea was ever-present in the background of hobbit imagination; but fear of it and distrust of all Elvish lore, was the prevailing mood I the Shire at the end of the Third Age, and that mood was certainly not entirely dispelled by the events and changes with which that Age ended.”

Tolkien certainly seems to have experienced a lot of anxiety about “The Sea-Bell”. He expressed qualms to Pauline Baynes (Letter 6 December 1961 (p. 312), calling it “the poorest” in the collection. Yet he did not pull it and in the end the illustration on the dust jacket features it (the character holds a sea-shell and there is a sea-bell clearly visible (Scull & Hammond say it depicts the mariner in “Errantry” but it seems more probable to me that it is the narrator of “The Sea-Bell”) – why would Tolkien allow the figure in “The Sea-Bell” to feature on the cover if he really thought it was a poor poem?)

Why did Tolkien at this point (1962) make the poem explicitly about Frodo when it was not before. He recognises that it fits very well with Frodo’s tendency to dream about the sea and in particular the disturbing dreams he was experiencing during his last few sad years in the Shire. What implication does this have for Frodo’s vision in the house of Tom Bombadil and Sam’s assumptions about his eventual destiny?

It has features in common with the two OE poems mentioned above. Exile, loneliness, alienation, cold, winter, emblematic of Frodo’s trials and struggles – but when the narrator arrives at his destination he does not find what the vision in Tom Bombadil’s house suggested that he would

At the beginning, the narrator sees a boat, “empty and grey” suggestive of Saruman’s mocking of Galadriel, but he gets into it anyway. He arrives in the West but the fairi s hide from him wherever he goes and respond to his challenge ‘Speak to me words! Show me a face!’ with silence and absence, and then suddenly the imagery changes. We go from starlight, jewel dust etc, to negative words with dark connotations – “Black came a cloud as a night-shroud…” and it turns out that fairy time has kicked in and the protagonist is suddenly old. His voyage back to the mortal world is described in bleak and depressing language – “sea-wrack”, “cold caves”, “seals barking, and rocks snarling”, “the gulping of waves”, winter, snow, ice darkess, rain, the sea shell silent and dead. He discovers on his return that he is now shunned by his fellow mortals as he was by the longed-for fairies.

As Verlyn Flieger points out, “The Sea-Bell” turns the promise of the vision in the house of TB to “fairy gold” (p.213). Is this really going to be Frodo’s fate once the ship arrives at Tol Eressëa or is it just a deception, a despair-inducing result of Saruman’s parting remarks to him? ’Do not expect me to wish you health and long life,’ he says. ‘You will have neither. But that is not my doing. I merely foretell.’ (“The Scouring of the Shire”). That Tolkien could even imagine Frodo finding such a non-welcome in the West is deeply depressing. He did suffer from periods of severe doubt regarding his own belief in God and the afterlife but it seems a shame he extended this to his fictional creation. Frodo deserved a break!

Books I looked at

“The Letters of J R R Tolkien.” Ed. H Carpenter. (George Allen & Unwin Ltd, 1991)
“A Question of Time.” Verlyn Flieger. (Kent State University Press, 1997)
“The J R R Tolkien Companion and Guide”. Christina Scull & Wayne Hammond. (Houghton Mifflin Company, 2006)
“The Lord of the Rings.” J R R Tolkien. (George Allen & Unwin Ltd, 1968 – 11th impression 1972)
“The Adventures of Tom Bombadil.” J R R Tolkien. (George Allen & Unwin Ltd, 1962 – 3rd impression 1968)
“The Adventures of Tom Bombadil.” J R R Tolkien, ed. Christina Scull & Wayne Hammnd. (HarperCollinsPublishers, 2014)
“Old and Middle English: an anthology”. Ed. E. Traherne. (Blackwell Publishers Ltd, 2000)