Friday, June 22, 2012

A Winter's Tale of Tolkien - July 1, 2012

As the northerlies sweep down over the hills and the southerlies chill us to the bone,  cradle a mug and let your mind wander over Middle-earth. Imagine a small group of rangers - or a lone one - out in the snow-covered wilds, tracking orcs or watching over the Shire; sit yourself down in the Hall of Fire at Rivendell and listen to songs and stories; join Thror, King under the Mountain, for a feast such as only the dwarves can prepare;  carouse with the goblins, or lurk with Gollum, in smoking, stinking caves somewhere hidden and dark; celebrate Mid-winter and the return of the light in the halls of Men; enjoy your well-stocked larder, barrels of ale, and a pipe by the fire in your hobbit hole.

How would a winter's day be spent in Tolkien's worlds? We shall spin some tales of our own at our next moot. Bring your imagination and coin for coffee and cake to the cafe upstairs in the Embassy Cinema at the end of Courtney Place, Sunday, July 1, 2:00-4:00-ish.

Sing "Tra-la-la-lally,

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Welly-moot 1.2 (Apr 29, 2012)

This weekend's Welly-moot went off without a hitch. Kris arrived early to set up, and was quickly joined by Barbara, who had flown down from Auckland especially for the moot. By 2:15pm, thirteen people had arrived to discuss Smaug and his dragonous cronies. An ominous number indeed!

From the far left, around the table ccw: Barbara, Jack, Charlene, Kumi, Hawk, Ryan, Brian, Harrison, Suzie, Wayne, Kris, and Martyn. Missing: Alex (taking the picture), and Iain & Partner who arrived shortly after.

Shortly after though, Iain arrived with his partner, bringing us away from the unlucky number, and coincidentally up to The Hobbit's "fellowship" numbers instead.
Kris, and Iain and his wife

After coffee orders and introductions, we got started. To set the mood, Kris had brought with her some prints from Alan Lee and John Howe, which were displayed on one of the tables.

Hawk spotted Nessie - potentially of Dragon-kind! Behind him, left, is Alan Lee's Smaug, and on the right, John Howe's version. Let's see what Peter Jackson's version ends up looking like!
Also on display on my iPad was a presentation created by Welly-moot friend Peter Kenny from Australia, who sent me the link in anticipation of our meeting. The presentation can also be found on his Facebook page. Thanks again for that, Peter!

Martyn opened with a discussion on Welsh Dragons, and where Saint George's story fit into England's mythology - not very well, by the sounds of things! Various versions of the myth were offered, including a Libyan one. It sounds like it was eventually Richard the Lionheart who brought the story to England.

Martyn in full swing, with Kris and Wayne considering the evidence.

Ryan shows Hawk a print of St George's dragon as a Wyvern (two-legged, winged dragon)
Next, Alex demonstrated her skills at the Japanese art of Origami. Origami is an ancient art that's been around since early in Japan's Edo period (early 1600's), and is now practiced widely around the world. The word "Origami" simply means Folding ("Ori") Paper ("Kami"). True Origami involves folding a square sheet of paper, without cuts or glue.

Alex concentrates while I read her notes out to the group. Barbara is mesmerised (as the rest of us were!)

Kumi and Charlene memorise every fold! (Right?)
 Alex's chosen model was, of course, a dragon. She'd prepared a few extras beforehand, for everyone else to take home with them.

A selection of Dragons and Drakes

Japanese dragons are diverse legendary creatures in Japanese mythology and folklore. The style of the Japanese dragon was heavily influenced by the Chinese dragon. Like these other Asian dragons, most Japanese ones are water deities associated with rainfall and bodies of water, and are typically depicted as large, wingless, serpentine creatures with clawed feet. Interestingly, although wingless, they do often fly.

After Alex's Origami demonstration, Wayne spoke about English Dragon sightings in the 1600's. He had located a book with actual eyewitness accounts of Dragons, with some fairly detailed descriptions. I always wonder what that might have been - a crocodile? A Komodo dragon perhaps? Indonesia had been discovered, and trading would have been going well already. It's conceivable that somebody brought a giant Monitor lizard back for their own amusement, which had perhaps escaped somehow.

Or, of course, it could have been an Actual Dragon!

The discussion also touched, without definite results, on whether the fell beasts that the Nazgul ride on in ROTK were some form of Dragons, or at least Cold-Drakes. It seems they came from Angband, which is where (if memory serves me right) Morgoth created the Orcs from tortured Elves. Perhaps he also tortured Cold-Drakes into submission there? Was the great prison of Angband maybe Morgoth's Genetic Manipulation Laboratory?

On a related note, Smaug the Magnificent has recently been in the world news as well - he's made the top spot at the Forbes Rich List! Well, the Forbes Fictional 15, at least. Last year, he only made spot #7, although that appears to have been based on wrong assumptions of his wealth, and miscalculations. I'm impressed that the list has been modified, and he now claims his rightful spot at the top of the list! They don't call him The Magnificent for nothing!

During the course of the afternoon, it was mentioned that both Wayne and Iain had appeared in LOTR. Of course, since I had the Extended Editions on my iPad, that started a quick search for them both - and with success! Wayne is very easy to spot, and most people will probably remember his moment at the start of the Helm's Deep battle - Aragorn tells the archers to "Fire!", and Wayne repeats the call, moments later. Yes, the eye-patch is indeed real, and my guess is that Peter Jackson saw the appeal of Wayne's unusual look to give the battle an edgier, more visceral visual style.

Wayne with his signature moment


 Iain was harder to find, although also a nice important moment in the ROTK - moments after Arwen and Aragorn kiss after the Coronation, Elrond smiles the smile of a proud dad, and on the left side of the screen, behind Elrond's Elven neighbour, you can see Iain quite clearly (click on the picture for a better view)

Iain, after Aragorn's Coronation scene

Iain is on the far left, with the cool hat (click for a better view).

All in all, it was a very successful meeting. We met, shared stories, discussed the theme, and most importantly, generally had a great time of it. Thanks to everyone who attended, and made it all possible! Thanks also to the Embassy Theatre staff and their excellent coffee and cake - it was enjoyed by all! And to those who couldn't make it - there's always a next time -  the next meeting will be on July the 1st.

  - Jack Machiela

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Heads up people - next meeting approaches!

The next Welly-moot meeting is coming up this Sunday, 29th of April, starting at 2:00pm, upstairs at the Embassy Theatre. The theme of the meeting will be Dragons, and it sounds like there's going to be a few different takes on the subject.

So please, spread the word - if you enjoy meeting other Hobbit friends, turn up and join us! And even if you don't make it there, could you help spread the word far and wide? Share this info on your Facebook page, or via Twitter, or via any other method.

  - Jack

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Japanese Dragons at next Moot!

In keeping with the Dragons theme of our next Welly-moot, founding member Alex will demonstrate her skills at the ancient Japanese art of Origami, and will try her hand at making paper dragons.

Red Dragon by Alex

These are not easy creatures to fold out of a single square piece of paper, without cutting or glueing! If you want to see how she does it, be sure to come to the next meeting!

Also, one of our regular attendees, Kumiko is also working on "a Japanese Dragon" of some kind. More details as they come to hand!

Remember, the next meeting is April 29th, upstairs at the Embassy Theatre at 2:00pm.

Spread the word via Facebook, Twitter, or any other method!

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Dwarves to Dragons - the Tale Continues April 29!

The Professor certainly filled Middle-earth with a collection of weird and wonderful beings. Last moot we had a look at the dwarves of Erebor.  Continuing The Hobbit theme, we thought we might take a look at that Most Magnificent Worm, the Chiefest and Greatest of Calamities, the Impenetrable Peril - Smaug the Dragon.

Smaug Destroys Lake Town, © John Howe (*)

Tolkien fans, being the creative and imaginative folk that they are, can surely all visualize what that   mighty drake must have looked, sounded and, if one were particularly unlucky, felt like. For our next moot, please bring something to help develop a picture of the last great dragon of Middle-earth. Draw a nightmare image of flaming breath and riveting eyes. Write an ode to the Master of Beguilement. Compose lyrics to a tune we can sing around the communal fire in memory of the devastation of Smaug.  Play a madrigal on your lute or flute. Bring all to the table: jokes, riddles (particularly enjoyed by dragons), skits, costume, wherever your talents and skills may lie.

If performance is more terrifying for you than tooth, claw and tail, bring a dragon-related artifact to display, something from your collection to make us gasp and lust with the desire of dwarves.  Perhaps you have an image or statue, a historical poem concerning dragons you could share to add to our knowledge of these mysterious beasts. If all inspiration abandons you, do not despair and fall away! Come and marvel at the contributions of your moot mates. Another time for sharing will come. We hope to make Welly-moot an exploration of all things Tolkien with contributions from all members, as each so pleases.

For somewhere to begin, try these links to dragon lore at Tolkien Gateway, a delightful source of information on all things Tolkien. Here you will find articles about Tolkien's Dragons in general, and individual articles for SmaugGlaurungAncalagon, and Scatha. Click on the sound icons for each dragon, all save Smaug, to hear the pronunciation of the name.  The pronunciation of "Smaug" being an object of debate, this might be a topic to address on the day. Anyone feel like doing some research?

See you at the Embassy Theatre's upstairs cafe, 10 Kent Terrace, at the Mt. Victoria end of Courtney Place, Wellington on Sunday, April 29, from 2:00 until about 4:00 p.m. Of course there will also be  the much anticipated coffee drinking, cake eating and general getting-to-know-each-other as usual, but this time THERE (WILL) BE DRAGONS!

Extra question: fell beasts of the Nazgul - dragons or what?


(*) The "Smaug Destroys Lake Town" Illustration is © John Howe, and used with permission from the artist. If you haven't been to his website yet, it's time you did! John Howe was intimately involved in the shaping of Peter Jackson' s Middle-earth, and looking through his Galleries, it's easy to see how much of that was kept intact in the movies. Currently, he is working hard on the next (previous?) installment, so let's see how much we'll recognise when the movie comes out!

Sunday, February 26, 2012

A Wizard For All Seasons, by Mark Bednarowski

The following article was written by Mark Bednarowski, and was originally printed in the magazine of the Tolkien Society (UK), Amon Hen (issue 233). It tells more of the quests of Gandalf which eventually lead him to The Shire.

The article is reprinted with kind permission of the author. Andrew Butler from Tolkien Society (UK) helped me get in touch with him. Our gratitudes go out to you both!

In a previous article [originally submitted for Amon Hen #228], “Plight of the Dwarves”, I attempted to give more insight into the motivation of Thorin and company for their quest of Mount Erebor with respect to the history of the Dwarves in the Third Age. The attempt stemmed from the anticipated release of Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit in order to refresh or familiarize us with the Dwarves. But the company of course did not consist entirely of Dwarves. Fairness suggests that the motivations of the remaining two should not go unconsidered.

Having said that, Hobbits, not known by nature to be excessively adventurous folk, makes it difficult, I think, to build a case for Bilbo. Apart from his no longer dormant Took-side that began to crave adventure again, motivation was scarce; while on the quest to the Lonely Mountain, the thought of himself sitting back in his comfy hobbit hole having tea by the fire came to his mind more than once.

This then, of course, leaves one other person.

“Gandalf! If you had heard only a quarter of what I have heard about him, and I have only heard very little of all there is to hear, you would be prepared for any sort of remarkable tale.” Indeed, a quarter of very little seems to be all we have of Gandalf’s affairs after his arrival in Middle-earth to the time of a key event, that being his encounter with Thorin in Bree. Gandalf came to realize, from that meeting, a great opportunity from which the quest would form.

Fortunately, we do hear more about who this wizard was and what he did, which in itself is a remarkable tale. Yet it is not found in The Hobbit.1 “The Tale of Years” in Appendix B and The Silmarillion provide us with some significant events in the wizard’s past and also some interesting background information.

It was in the time that a shadow fell on the vast forest of Greenwood the Great that Gandalf, who later joined the ranks of the wise, first appeared in Middle-earth, circa 1000 III. Roughly a century later, the wise discovered that a stronghold was built within the great forest. In it dwelled an evil power, perhaps one of the Nazgûl. It was named Dol Guldur. Nothing is afterwards chronicled about this for over a millennium. It was then that the wise learned that the power of Dol Guldur was growing.

Gandalf suspected the most that it was Sauron. Not long after this in 2063 III, Gandalf took action and went to the evil fortress to investigate. As a result, Sauron retreated and went into hiding in the east and a watchful peace began, yet it was not to last. Almost four centuries later, Sauron returned to Dol Guldur. Three years afterwards, the White Council was formed of which Gandalf was a member.

There are other future events that indicate good relations between the wizard and other free folk.

During the Long Winter of 2758 III, Gandalf came to the aid of the Hobbits. And in 2845 III, he began a search for Thráin II, father of Thorin Oakenshield, in the mines of Moria. (Thráin II went wandering and was thought to be in Moria after he became lost. He was in fact captured and imprisoned by Sauron in Dol Guldur.) Gandalf’s search was in vain. Other matters soon afterwards came back to his attention. Strangely, Gandalf did eventually find Thráin II, but it was quite unplanned.

The shadow in the forest grew greater. Five years later, Gandalf returned to Dol Guldur in disguise to seek more information. The news he learned was indeed grim. He reported back to Elrond that the master of Dol Guldur was Sauron himself and he had not been idle. He was trying to collect all the Rings of Power and any information on the One. Further, he was seeking news on the heirs of Isildur.

Here is the strange part. While Gandalf was on this dangerous mission, he happened to come across a pitiful looking Dwarf trapped in the dungeons of the fortress. The time the prisoner had spent there in torment had certainly taken its toll. The Dwarf had gone half-mad and they did not recognize each other. Sadly, the poor Dwarf died shortly after, but not before he passed onto Gandalf two seemingly unimportant yet curious items: a map of the Lonely Mountain and a key.

“I stowed the things away, and by some warning of my heart I kept them always with me, safe, but soon almost forgotten.” 2 He escaped Dol Guldur with no idea who the Dwarf was.

In light of new information, Gandalf urged the White Council in the following year in Rivendell to attack Sauron. Saruman then overruled the proposal and nothing was done. The decision did not rest easy with all of the council. This part essentially concludes Gandalf’s history in Middle-earth prior to his meeting with Thorin.

But where did Gandalf come from, what was his interest in the quest, and who was he anyway? As to who Gandalf was, Appendix B informs us that he was one of the Istari, but this account is very brief. As for his interest in the quest, Appendix A provides an explanation, but this fills less than a page. Tolkien did intend to include a more detailed account of what happened with Gandalf and Thorin just prior to the events of the Hobbit within the body of The Lord of the Rings, but unfortunately it had to be cut out. Yet thanks to Tolkien’s son Christopher and all his years of work on his father’s manuscripts, this account can be found in Unfinished Tales.3 It is learned that Gandalf was ordained to perform a task and was one that was vital to winning the freedom of Middle-earth. No longer can Gandalf be viewed as simply a wizard with memorable fireworks and the reputation of sending Hobbits off on adventures, but one of the Istari sent from Valinor charged to work against Sauron. But deeper than this is that his task, like that of all the Istari, has its roots embedded far back in the Elder Days.

The forces of the Valar overthrew Morgoth, Sauron’s superior, at the end of the First Age, and they did so by intervening directly on behalf of Elves and Men. The herald of Manwë himself, Eönwë, was in command of the host sent to Middle-earth to combat the might of the Black God. Victory was won, but not without heavy cost; the land of ancient Beleriand was destroyed and sank under the sea.

This was the last time the Valar attempted to protect the Children of Eru by “their own might and glory fully revealed”.4 Although Morgoth was cast out of Arda, evil was not wholly vanquished and as the ages passed, the Valar kept watch over Middle-earth. They were aware of the first downfall of Sauron at the end of the Second Age, yet they were also aware that his One Ring had not been destroyed. This meant that there still lingered a great danger: Sauron could return in time to plague and conquer the Free Peoples once again. Worse still, the strength and power of Elves and Men waned during the Third Age. More Elves departed from Middle-earth to Valinor. In the north, the kingdom of Arnor fell. In the south, Gondor no longer had a king and the Haradrim threatened its southern borders. The Dwarves suffered very many casualties in the war of the Dwarves and Orcs and many were still a wandering folk. King Théoden of Rohan was under a spell of Saruman. The White Tree died without a seedling to be found.

Would the Free Peoples of the Third Age have the strength to withstand an assault from Sauron? As predicted, Sauron began to stir again in Middle-earth. Manwë summoned the Valar and they held a council. A decision was made and had the consent of Eru. Beings of the Maiar order were to be chosen as emissaries. Of all that were chosen, five came to the north of Middle-earth. One known to be the wisest of the Maiar was named Olórin and was commanded to go by Manwë himself. Gandalf, as one of the names he became known by in Middle-earth, was reluctant to do so. He argued that he was too weak and that he also feared Sauron. Manwë retorted that that was all the more reason to go.

To amend for their past mistakes, the Valar changed tactics. The chosen were to be sent to Middle-earth to resist Sauron by different means. The Istari were charged to unite the enemies of Sauron and persuade them to do good. This method called for them to forgo might and appear as mortals in order to win the trust of Elves and Men. Yet there was a drawback: this would also imperil them or “dim their wisdom and knowledge, and confusing them with fears, cares, and weariness coming from the flesh”.5 After their arrival in Middle-earth, Gandalf revealed only to Elrond, Galadriel, and Círdan that they came from the Undying Lands. Círdan had great foresight and perhaps he saw the same qualities in Gandalf that Manwë did. For Círdan entrusted Gandalf with the Ring of Fire to aid him in his task.6 Thus began the labours of Gandalf against the Shadow.

But what drove him to form the quest? Late in the Third Age, ever the evil of Mirkwood grew deeper. But Gandalf, at a time, was looking for a short rest. After travelling abroad for some 20 years, he began to head west toward the Shire. On his way there, Gandalf stayed over in Bree at an inn. Sitting down in the parlour next to the fire, he puffed on his pipe and began to contemplate matters. For his mind was burdened with troublesome thoughts. The wise already knew that Sauron had returned and was gathering strength.

Soon he would declare himself. Yet Saruman hindered Gandalf’s plan to strike at Sauron. What was his strange reluctance to disturb Sauron in Dol Guldur? Certainly, the time would come when Sauron would proceed to war. And when he did, what would be his plan? There was the possibility that Sauron could re-occupy Mordor, but Gandalf knew he intended to attack the stronghold of Rivendell once he became strong enough. The Men of the north were not as mighty as in the past, and it seemed likely that Rivendell would be attacked from the old dwelling of the Witch-king. To do that, Angmar must be reclaimed first, Gandalf thought, as one of his smoke rings drifted away. But what defence was there in that region of Middle-earth to counter the attack when it came? Now, there were only the Dwarves of the Iron Hills not far from the Lonely Mountain. Ah yes, the Lonely Mountain! Smaug the dragon could certainly become a powerful ally to Sauron. How to deal with the dragon then? (more smoke rings) Gandalf pondered about the enemies of Smaug. Both King Thrór and his son Thráin II were driven out of their dwelling under the mountain when Smaug descended upon them long ago.

Imagine how fortuitous Gandalf must have felt then when he learned that a direct descendant of the king, Thorin Oakenshield, just happened to be in town! Thorin was on his way to the Blue Mountains far to the west and also stopped over in Bree.

They began to talk and Gandalf listened with interest to the Dwarf’s tale of how he yearned to reclaim his home of old. So much in fact, that he accompanied Thorin on his journey. Soon after, he left Thorin in the Blue Mountains without a plan because Thorin’s mind seemed set on war and revenge on the dragon and Gandalf had no confidence in that idea. He returned to the Shire in April 2941 III and contemplated Thorin’s tale. While there, Gandalf heard news of a particular Hobbit. He learned that this one had the tendency at times to see the world outside the borders of the Shire and was sometimes seen talking to Dwarves. It was then that an idea suddenly hit him. Gandalf had not thought of the map and key for years. He recollected the ‘strange chance’ of how he acquired them. Gandalf then rightly guessed that the poor Dwarf imprisoned in Dol Guldur, some 91 years before, must have been Thorin’s father Thráin II.7 With access to the Lonely Mountain by a secret entrance and the services of a softfooted Hobbit, it now seemed quite possible to discover what Smaug was up to. Gandalf rode back to Thorin in haste to persuade him of his plan. And the ball began to roll.

Although Gandalf said to himself he must find a way to deal with Smaug, action against Dol Guldur was needed more. It was already spring and Gandalf had to be at the White Council by August at the latest or Saruman would have nothing done. By that time, the quest should already be well underway, so Gandalf would have to take his leave from the company for a while at an appropriate time. It was imperative to convince the council to thwart Sauron’s plans.

There was only one last preparation. Gandalf needed to assemble the entire group before they set off. He returned again to the Shire on April 25th. It was a lovely Tuesday morning when Gandalf approached Bilbo’s dwelling located in Bag End. He found him smoking in front of his round green door. “Good morning!” the Hobbit said.


Gandalf argued his case and finally convinced Saruman that they should attack Dol Guldur. “It is not needed that the Ring should be found, for while it abides on earth and is not unmade, still the power that it holds will live, and Sauron will grow and have hope. The might of the Elves and the Elf-friends is less now than of old. Soon he will be too strong for you, even without the Great Ring; for he rules the Nine, and of the Seven he has recovered three. We must strike.”8 As a result of the attack, Sauron retreated. Shortly thereafter, Gandalf headed north to Esgaroth to resume the quest. In the end, and not without great loss, the Lonely Mountain was reclaimed, and unexpectedly, Smaug fell in battle and was a threat no more. All was well, at least for the time being. As we know, the War of the Ring would later follow.

If Sauron carried out his original plan to attack Rivendell, Gandalf believed that the outcome would have been much worse for the Free Peoples. Smaug could have wreaked havoc across Eriador and Rivendell during the War of the Ring. But without the aid of this fearsome dragon, Sauron’s attack in the north was averted and there was no invasion of Eriador. Further, there then came Kings Dáin and Brand both of whom stood in the path of Sauron’s attack in the battle of Dale.

As for Gandalf’s motivation in the quest of Erebor, if not for all his work in the long years he spent in Middle-earth, it could be blandly argued that the direct command of a deity to perform a task ought to be sufficient. But we also know that while in Valinor, Olórin visited the Valar Nienna often and he learned from her the quality of pity. His compassion for those in distress overcame his fear of Sauron. In his words to Denethor in Minas Tirith, “But I will say this: the rule of no realm is mine, neither of Gondor nor any other, great or small. But all worthy things that are in peril as the world now stands. Those are my care. And for my part, I shall not wholly fail of my task, though Gondor should perish, if anything passes through this night that can still grow fair or bear fruit and flower again in days to come. For I also am a steward.”9 And in the end, Smaug was dead, Sauron was later defeated for good, the king returned, and the Dominion of Men came to be; all because Gandalf and Thorin met in Bree one year sometime in the middle of March.

1 As mentioned in “Plight of the Dwarves”, The Hobbit was not initially intended to be part of Tolkien’s legendarium, the Silmarillion. Through the success of The Hobbit and the publisher’s subsequent demand for a sequel, which of course became The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien made the decision to join them to his mythology.
Years later, during the preparation of the appendices of The Lord of the Rings, and after the first volume was published, Tolkien extended the historic timeline of the legendarium beyond the end of the First Age into the Third, or into the time of The Hobbit and the War of the Ring.

2 Unfinished Tales, “The Quest of Erebor”, Harper Collins, 2000, p419

3 The Silmarillion also has an account, but – as emphasized by Christopher Tolkien in the Foreword – it is independent. Its inclusion in The Silmarillion provides the entire history of Tolkien’s mythology from the Music of the Ainur to the end of the Third Age now instead of the First. It’s another fascinating read into the affairs of Gandalf.

4 Unfinished Tales, “The Quest of Erebor”, Harper Collins, 2000, p503

5 The Blue wizards travelled into the east and were not heard from again. Radagast became too preoccupied with birds and beasts. Saruman betrayed the order. Only Gandalf held true to his purpose.

6 “For Círdan saw further and deeper than any other in Middle-earth”, The Lord of the Rings, Appendix B, Harper Collins, 1995, p1060

7 It does seem odd that Gandalf made this oversight and did not resolve it for nearly a century. Yet there are accounts from two sources that attempt to explain this. One is from The History of Middle-earth Vol. XII, Harper Collins, 2002, p284, and Unfinished Tales, Harper Collins, 2000, p419. To quote from the latter: “Fortunately, I did not make any mistake in my use of them. I kept them up my sleeve, as you say in the Shire, until things looked quite hopeless.”

8 The Silmarillion, “Of the Rings of Power and the Third Age”, Harper Collins, 1999, p302

9 The Lord of the Rings, “Minas Tirith”, Harper Collins, 1995, p742

Plight Of The Dwarves, by Mark Bednarowski

The following article was written by Mark Bednarowski, and was originally printed in the magazine of the Tolkien Society (UK), Amon Hen (issue 228). It tells of the time from Sauron's return, until the day that Thorin II and Gandalf meet in the Green Dragon.

The article is reprinted with kind permission of the author. Andrew Butler from Tolkien Society (UK) helped me get in touch with him. Our gratitudes go out to you both!

The production of The Hobbit (H) is finally underway with a planned release in December of next year.

In anticipation of this event, it came to mind that brushing up on the history of the Dwarves (and straightening out all those similar-sounding names) may be of some interest. It is hoped that this article, largely derived from the Appendices of The Lord of the Rings (LotR), will provide some useful background information and help to understand what drove Thorin Oakenshield to journey to the Lonely Mountain.

It should be noted that the first edition of the H, was published before LotR, and the author did not initially intend for the H to be part of his legendarium, The Silmarillion (S). It was not until Tolkien wrote the Appendices to the LotR that he outlined the series of events that connected the H to LotR.

But later revisions to the H would be necessary to bring the book into resonance with LotR. The prime example of these revisions is the ring that Bilbo found. It changes from nothing more than a useful item to a burglar, making oneself invisible, to something of supreme importance – the One Ring. This means that LotR is not really a sequel to the H, but one to the S.1 This story is one of the Third Age and focuses on Durin’s Folk, the Longbeards. The Third Age saw the fading years of the Eldar and contained times of despair for the Dwarves in its latter half.

Sauron had returned and evil things began to stir again in Middle-earth. In brief, the treasures of the Dwarves were plundered; they were driven from their dwellings, and became a wandering people living in exile.

Moria, then called Dwarrowdelf, in the Misty Mountains, was the main dwelling of the Dwarves. It was not long after the fall of the kingdom of Arnor, 1974 III, that more trouble began to brew.2 Whether the Dwarves mined too deep or through the malice of Sauron, a Balrog was released.

Both the king, Durin VI, and his son, Náin I, were slain. Ultimately, this horrific creature forced the evacuation of their home in which they had dwelled for millennia. That year was 1981 III.

Most of the Dwarves fled north. The next king in line, Thráin I, founded Erebor or the Lonely Mountain. It was he that first discovered there the Arkenstone. Most of the others settled in the Grey Mountains to the north. The successor of Thráin I was his son Thorin I. (Not Oakenshield yet, that’s Thorin II.) It is unclear why, but Thorin I later departed Erebor for the Grey Mountains and took the Arkenstone with him. There followed peace for a while, but it was not to last.

More than three centuries passed before the Dwarves faced new enemies that reappeared in the northern wastelands next to the Grey Mountains – dragons. Perhaps this again came from the work of Sauron as his power slowly grew.

Dáin I, the great-great grandson of Thorin I, and his second son Frór were both slain by cold drakes. Once again, the Dwarves were forced to abandon their home and evacuated the Grey Mountains.

Some returned to Erebor, including the successor of Dáin I, Thrór. He also returned the Arkenstone to its proper place where a future daring burglar will claim it for himself. Others founded a new home among the Iron Hills located to the east of Erebor. One of the descendents of this group is Dáin II Ironfoot who comes later into the tale.

The tragedies of the Dwarves are still far from over. Although they have escaped the Grey Mountains, dragons continue to multiply. After a time, word reached the far north of the wealth of the King Under the Mountain. In one hundred eighty years time, Smaug, that chiefest and greatest of calamities, descends upon Erebor.

For a third time, the Dwarves are forced away from their dwelling and now become wanderers.

These include Thrór, his son Thráin II, and grandchildren, one of which is Thorin Oakenshield. The remainder fled to the Iron Hills.

In their escape, important items were saved. The map and key to the secret back entrance to the Lonely Mountain and a Ring of Power.

This Ring of Power was the first of the seven that was made for the Dwarves. It was first given to Durin III by the Elves long ago in the Second Age when it was not yet known what the true designs of Sauron were. Through the centuries, it passed down the line of kings of Durin’s folk until it came to Thrór. The story of the next tragedy to strike the Dwarves begins with him.

There came a time when Thrór made a decision to wander off with a sole companion, Nár, and made his way to Moria. What was it that drove him to do this? Perhaps it was a combination of being distraught from the ill fortune of himself 3 and his people with old age. Before he left, he bequeathed to his son, Thráin II, the last of the Seven Rings, the map and key, and his vengeance on Smaug. Perhaps Thrór’s decision was an effect of the ring itself. Its influence on the keeper may have grown stronger with the growing power of Sauron. What is worse is that it may have been at this time that Sauron came to learn who now possessed it.

Thrór’s journey ended in disaster. He was murdered by the great goblin Azog in Moria. His companion Nár reported the tragic news to his son that sparked the War of the Dwarves and Goblins, yet another despairing chapter in their history. Ultimately, the Dwarves won, but it was a Pyrrhic victory. The Dwarves lost more than half of their fighting force in the final battle at the east gate of Moria, also known as the Battle of Nanduhirion. Yet the Dwarves did not re-enter Moria. Dáin II Ironfoot of the Iron Hills said to his cousin Thráin II that the “world must change and some other power must come before Durin’s folk walk again in Moria.” Dáin II Ironfoot led his people back to the Iron Hills and Thráin and his followers returned to Dunland.4 The next set of events is the precursor to the H. Thráin, the possessor of the ring, map, and key, has in his heart to set out for Erebor. Only two companions accompany him. Both are members of the future band that travel on the Quest of Erebor – Balin and Dwalin. Yet, nothing is told to his son Thorin Oakenshield.5 Once Thráin was discovered to be abroad, the emissaries of Sauron hunted for him. Thráin was captured in Mirkwood and taken to Dol Guldur. Balin and Dwalin returned to report that they simply lost him when they woke one morning. Thorin Oakenshield then became the new heir.

When Thráin was reported lost, Gandalf now enters the picture. Thinking he may be in Moria, Gandalf searches for him there, but in vain. Yet five years later, in 2850 III, Gandalf comes to Dol Guldur to spy. While there, he discovers that its master, known as the Necromancer, is really Sauron and is seeking to collect all the remaining Rings of Power and information of Isildur’s heirs.

While Thráin was imprisoned, his ring was taken from him. The map and key may have been of little interest to Sauron, but, for whatever reason, were never confiscated. It may have been one of Sauron’s biggest mistakes. This part is vital to both the H and LotR. Gandalf’s possession of the map and key ultimately led to the Quest of Erebor. In the Quest of Erebor, the One Ring was found that ultimately led to the Quest of Mount Doom and the final downfall of Sauron.

Although Gandalf finds Thráin, he does not learn his identity, probably due to the poor Dwarf being half-crazed by his imprisonment and loss of his ring. He repeats over and over again “the last of the seven”. After Gandalf receives the map and key, sadly, Thráin then dies. His last words were “for my son”.6 Nearly a century will pass before Gandalf will realize the full significance of what he obtained from a pitiful old Dwarf locked in the pits of Dol Guldur.

In the following year, Gandalf, equipped with new knowledge, urges an attack on Dol Guldur at the White Council held in Rivendell. Saruman overruled the decision. Action would have to wait.

And that is basically how the story of Durin’s line unfolded prior to the events of the H. Later, in 2879 III, Gimli was born. In 2920 III, Gandalf visited the Shire for the last time7 before that fateful spring morning when he came to Bag End looking for a burglar to share in an adventure.

But also during this time, the troubles of the past grew more on the mind of Thorin Oakenshield. “The embers in the heart of Thorin grew hot again” and, like his father before him, he desired to reclaim what was once theirs. He was likely brooding over this and cursing the dragon under his breath while sitting in a dark corner of the Prancing Pony nursing a pint. It was March 15 2941 III.

The Innkeeper was busy serving customers and others were singing by the fire, when who by chance but Gandalf walked in and greeted him. They sat together and began to talk.

1 Letters, p136

2 In this time, the Hobbits claimed the Shire for their own and elected a Thain to replace the fallen king. (Appendix B)
3 Thrór was forced to abandon both the Grey Mountains and the Lonely Mountain because of dragons. (Appendix A, “Durin’s Folk”)

4 They later made exile in the Blue Mountains near the shores of Middle-earth in Harlindon, but at the time were in Dunland. (Appendix A, “Durin’s Folk”)

5 It will be of interest to see in the upcoming film how Balin and Dwalin react when Thorin asks Gandalf how he came to possess the secret map and key.

6 Unfinished Tales, p419 

7 He came to pay his respects for his friend the Old Took. (The Hobbit, p6)