7 Fantastic Middle-earth Theories

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Brilliant, thought-provoking theories that are debunked, unfounded and pretty much confirmed

I’ve decided to tackle 7 theories constructed by readers of Tolkien’s Middle-earth, that are rather extraordinary in concept and make perfect sense (though some can be disproved or contested).

There are many arguments in discussion around the characters and stories of Middle-earth; but I’ve decided to focus on a few which have struck me the most.

Starting from the impossible and busted arguments to the more plausible ones, here we go …

7. The Arkenstone was one of the Silmarils (Debunked)

If it weren’t for specific quotes that disprove this, the idea behind it is rather wonderful.

In The Silmarillion, all three Simarils were lost: one in the heavens, one thrown into the depths of the sea and the other fell into a chasm in the earth.Arkenstone

After the tumultous events at the end of the First Age, when the War of Wrath brought about the destruction of Beleriand and the alteration of the world, it is not impossible to conceive the idea that the lost Silmaril that fell into the earth found its way into the Lonely Mountain.

Accounting for geological phenomena and tectonic plates shifting over thousands of years, the Silmaril could have “travelled” East and eventually infused itself among the rock at the heart of the Mountain, before finally being discovered by the Dwarves.

The description of the Arkenstone in The Hobbit and that of the Silmarils in The Silmarillion is strikingly similar. However, we are told of the latter that  “those jewels could not be found or brought together again until the world was broken, and re-made anew.”

Not to mention the fact that they could not be touched by any mortal hand: “no mortal flesh, nor hands unclean, nor anything of evil will might touch them.”

Considering Dwarves – who are mortal – actually fashioned and shaped the Arkenstone, is a good indicator that they are not one and the same.

It is still a fascinating theory that keeps cropping up every now and then, with new possible explanations for and against it.

6. Gollum killed Frodo’s parents (Unfounded)

It has been debated that Gollum, on his quest to find the “thief” who stole his precious, came upon the hobbit’s parents and killed them.

The idea is appealing and, if proven true, would be the ideal narrative beginning to the Bilbo-Gollum-Frodo story arc.

Here are the facts:

  • Gollum was one of the Stoors: the hobbits most associated with water and boating
  • Drogo and Primula Baggins drowned during a boating accident on the Brandywine river in The Shire
  • When Gollum chased after Bilbo to get the Ring back, he knew only two things about him: Shire and Baggins
  • He may have killed the first two hobbits he encountered that had the same surname
  • In The Fellowship of the Ring (the book), as Gollum searched for Bilbo, he came to the Brandywine river and turned back.
  • Several “witnesses” to Drogo & Primula’s accident say they saw a struggle

So what debunks this rather intriguing theory? There is no conclusive evidence or a quote where Tolkien specifically says it wasn’t Gollum.

However, there are a few hintswhich seem to point towards the impossibility of this theory. One such hint is the date of Drogo and Primula’s drowning: TA 2980.Gollum's Cave

According to Tolkien’s Timeline of events, that was the same year Gollum met Shelob for the first time – on the confines of Mordor.

It would not have been impossible for Gollum to travel hundreds of miles from the Shire to Mordor in the span of a year, but it is still a rather far-fetched idea; but no less tantalising.

I believe there was also a quote in the prologue to The Lord of the Rings which says that, after Gollum came out in search of Bilbo and ventured away from the Misty Mountains, he eventually turned back – and therefore never crossed the Brandywine river where Frodo’s parents met their untimely end.

5. Smaug: Deserter from Angband (Doubtful)

We do not know how long Middle-earth dragons live.

In The Hobbit, Tolkien says that they live forever – though no doubt this was more intended for dramatic effect, than a statement of fact about his imaginary creatures.

We can, however, read something interesting towards the end of The Silmarillion.

After the overthrow of the first Dark Lord, Morgoth, his remaining hosts and servants fled towards the East and hid among the shadows.

We are told that during the War of Wrath “well-nigh all the dragons were destroyed”.Smaug AUJ extended

Could Smaug have been one of the few remaining survivors and made his way towards the Withered Heath in the North, before descending on Erebor thousands of years later?

As captivating as that may sound, Smaug himself states that when he attacked the Lonely Mountain he was “[t]hen I was but young and tender. Now I am old and strong…”

So Tolkien’s dragons may live to be a couple of hundred years old; but taking into consideration the 6000-year gap between the events at the end of The Silmarillion and The Hobbit, is a bit of a stretch.

4. Radagast disguised as Saruman (Plausible)

For further discussion on this theory, see the following post I had written a while back: The Curious Case of Radagast the Brown.

In summary, this is more speculation than a theory in itself.

It involves Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli’s encounter with a mysterious figure during their hunt for Merry and Pippin in The Two Towers.Radagast

One night, on the eaves of Fangorn Forest, the Three Hunters become aware of an old man looking at their camp. They are startled and suspect that the hooded figure of Saruman himself has come to spy on them.

However, Aragorn is quick to note that the individual wore no hood, but a hat.

Later on, Gandalf dismisses that he had anything to do with it. Furthermore, their horses had ran away not in fear, as we later on learn, but in joy after meeting up with Shadowfax.

Could the figure have been Radagast – using his skills as a “master of shapes and changes in hues” (Unfinished Tales) to look like Saruman in the enemy’s own territory?

It is definitely worth considering.

3. Wormtongue’s act of cannibalism (Highly Plausible)

Towards the end of The Lord of the Rings, as the four hobbits return to a Shire overcome by Saruman’s twisted mind, they rally their people to overthrow the fallen wizard.Wormtongue

As both Saruman and his whimpering servant, Grima Wormtongue, are forced to leave the Shire, the following scene ensues:

Wormtongue halted and looked back at him, half prepared to stay. Saruman turned. “No evil?” he cackled. “Oh no! Even when he sneaks out at night it is only to look at the stars. But did I hear someone ask where poor Lotho is hiding? You know, don’t you, Worm? Will you tell them?”

Wormtongue cowered down and whimpered: “No, no!”

“Then I will,” said Saruman. “Worm killed your Chief, poor little fellow, your nice little Boss. Didn’t you, Worm? Stabbed him in his sleep, I believe. Buried him, I hope; though Worm has been very hungry lately. No, Worm is not really nice. You had better leave him to me.

-The Scouring of the Shire; The Return of the King

People are divided on this aspect. Did he in fact kill and eat Lotho the hobbit? Is “hungry” a reference to the act of murder (i.e. hungry for murder) or should we interpret it literally?

Up to you to decide …

2. Sauron’s ultimate master plan (Plausible)

I found this thought-provoking theory somewhere online, but I can’t find the original source anymore. Sauron creating the One Ring

Basically, it argued that the Dark Lord’s plan to enslave the people of Middle-earth was ultimately in an effort to eventually offer them as ransom to the Valar and force them to free Morgoth from captivity.

Whilst there is no form of written evidence that this was indeed the case, it makes sense.

At the same time, would Sauron really have wanted his master to return, after having secured for himself dominion over all Middle-earth?

Needless to say, it is a pretty intriguing concept and will no doubt garner much discussion.

1. The Three Strands of Hair: Galadriel, Gimli and Fëanor (Strong Possibility/Confirmed)

A recent argument I’ve discovered, which is absolutely wonderful, may further explain the relationship between Gimli and Galadriel.

As is told in The Silmarillion, Fëanor was one of the greatest elves to have lived: exceeding in all matters of craftsmanship and skill as a warrior.Gimli-Galadriel

In a draft on Galadriel’s history (found in Unfinished Tales), we are told how Fëanor had asked for a tress of her hair after having beheld it “with wonder and delight”.

Thrice he begged with his request, and ever she refused: perhaps seeing the arrogance and pride of his character.

And yet, in what greater way could she have repayed Gimli’s similar request for a single strand of hair  – thousands of years later – by actually giving him three?

Not only does Galadriel (an elf) reward a dwarf with his desire, but she also shows her immense admiration towards him.

What she refused to give to the most powerful and gifted of the Elves at the height of her power, she gave to a humble and generous individual: re-strengthening the often strenuous bond between Elf and Dwarf in one of the most moving of scenes in The Lord of the Rings.

Powerful stuff … brilliant.

Have you got anyone other theories that strike you as particularly interesting? Share your thoughts here! 🙂

Copyright of all images belongs to Warner Bros Studios, MGM Studios and New Line Cinema

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36 thoughts on “7 Fantastic Middle-earth Theories

  1. Regarding number 2: Sauron had a temple to Melkor built in Numenor, but I suspect that was a matter of convenience rather than of sentimental allegiance; he wanted to portray himself as representative of a power greater than the Valar, whom he claimed had hidden the truth of the “Lord of the Darkness” behind false myths. Sauron would probably have regarded himself as a more suitable Lord of Middle-earth than his old master, having seen first-hand how low Morgoth had fallen in his lust to dominate the world. (I say “probably” because I can’t immediately think of any direct statements from Tolkien to that effect.)

    • It’s a pretty cool theory as fan brainstorming goes, though I agree it doesn’t fit too well with the books. I doubt Gandalf would keep it a secret from the Fellowship (or at least Aragorn) once they’re on the road. Also, “Fly, you fools!” would not likely be interpreted as “Go way north out of your way to find the fearsome Eagles who don’t get involved in mortal affairs and ask them to let you ride them all the way to Mordor.” Bit of a stretch, that! But it’s kinda cool how detailed the theory is.

    • As David has said, it is a very interesting idea but I’m sure Gandalf would have been aware of the vigilance of Mordor; his purpose was to enter in stealth not in majesty! 😀

  2. A thought on the Sauron theory. I do think Sauron would have had an eye on the future (or even THE eye). In a real sense he could never be the ultimate dark lord of Middle Earth because I think he was mastered by fear. He knows that one day his tenure on Middle Earth is going to come to an end and Morgoth is his only fleeting hope against the will of Illuvatar and the last battle to come. Power, even Lordship of Middle Earth can only provide a temporary block/coping strategy (albeit thousands of years in length) to the fear of what is coming and I think deep down they know it. Fear mastered both of them long ago, and its fear that is the true ‘dark lord’ of Middle Earth. So, he might do anything to maximise his long term hope including bringing back Morgoth at a time more opportune to the dark side (Emperor Palpatine not included) 😉

    I like the hair theory and JRRT does seems to be fond of the number three. Also Galadriel’s heart in this gift of three hairs seems to be in contrast to the heart of Feanor in the crafting of the three Silmarils and also the elves in the crafting of the three elven rings, and in many ways trumps both.

    • On the Arkenstone front, could there be ideas from the Silmarillion that influenced the hobbit story. Here we have the similarity between the Silmarils and the Arkenstone but also, for example, there is the similarity between Thingol and Menegroth, and Thranduil and his underground home. I am not saying they are the same, but that as a story writer he included in The Hobbit motifs from his beloved legendarium.

      • I apologise to all for the term ‘story writer’ in the above. and therefore any implication that Middle Earth is not real. I shall now go away and do penance.

    • This is a good point; it is not as if Morgoth was sitting in chains in the Halls of Mandos. The statement in the Silmarillion, that “Morgoth himself the Valar thrust through the Door of Night beyond the Walls of the World, into the Timeless Void; and a guard is set forever on those walls, and Earendil keeps watch upon the ramparts of the sky”, is poetically powerful but difficult to interpret in realistic terms.

    • Perhaps, just like Manwe sough the council of Iluvatar in the matter of Ar-Pharazon breaking the Ban of the Valar, so did Sauron think he could force them to “parley” with Iluvatar and free his Master.

      It does sound far-fetched to be honest, but it is nonetheless intriguing 🙂

  3. 7. I always kinda liked this theory even though it’s not true. The idea of the Silmarils being lost forever is kinda sad, even though it keeps Middle-Earth safe from even more strife! But no, the Arkenstone is a great gem, but clearly much lesser than the Silmarils.

    6. Creepy! I’m kind of glad that it doesn’t seem likely, what with the dates and all, but everything else almost fits. Strange that Tolkien never addressed more the deaths of Frodo’s parents.

    5. I’ve always assumed that Smaug was just such a deserter or survivor — after all, Tolkien seems to imply that dragons don’t reproduce, but rather must be bred by Morgoth, and Sauron doesn’t seem to have the power to do that. But the problems of dates confounds things: if Smaug was young in TA 2770

  4. Bleh! Hit a button by accident that submitted the post and now it won’t let me edit. +( Well, continuing on…

    5. …if Smaug was “young” in TA 2770 when he attacked the Lonely Mountain but is old in TA 2941 when The Hobbit takes place, then that’s only 171 years. If he had already been alive several thousand years, he certainly wouldn’t have been still “young” in TA 2770! So where did he come from?

    4. Huh! Interesting. I guess I always assumed that the mysterious figure was indeed Saruman, or Gandalf the White who had just forgotten what he’d been doing (his memory seems to have been slow in coming back). But I suppose it could have been Radagast.

    3. Yikes. Seems likely. All too likely. Creeeeepy…

    2. There is that line in The Silmarillion stating to the effect that the only thing that keeps Sauron from matching Morgoth in evil is that Sauron is still a servant to Morgoth, and thus is not wholly as self-serving as his master is. But whether that is still valid so long after Morgoth’s banishment is unclear. It does seem as if Sauron sees himself as Morgoth’s replacement.

    1. Hehe, I’ve loved this idea ever since I came across it several years ago. Makes perfect sense to me, and seems quite deliberate on Tolkien’s part. And this connection helps explain so much more about her growth in character since the early chapters of The Silmarillioin.

  5. The three hairs is brilliant!
    Wormtongue being a cannibal would also explain his name very nicely, although I don’t suppose most who called him Wormtongue ever suspected cannibalism. But then, Tolkien seems to like names to come together independently (Turin Turambar pops to mind). Although perhaps it’s just Saruman using his horrible name. I feel Tolkien decided to make it ambiguous so that it’s more disturbing, as we can’t simply accept the fact.
    Philosophically, these questions are very strange, because I don’t know if the answers exist, or where they exist, or if they are at all knowable if they do exist. Are they what Tolkien himself thought? What the reader thinks? What he wanted us to think? What he would tell us, if we could ask him? Hmmmm….

  6. That last one is my favorite: Galadriel and Gimli. That is a beautiful story. I think I’d do the same thing if I were her. Never validate male entitlement. lol I wish they had kept this part in the movies.

    • They did, but only in the Extended Edition of “Fellowship of the Ring.” Not that they referenced Feanor, of course, but Gimli does speak of the gift. Here’s a video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JYzUvfAqkuc

      Gimli’s parts start at 1:00, and then again at about 3:30. Note Legolas’ smile when Gimli tells him of the three hairs–I like to think it’s because Legolas knows the story of Feanor’s asking and realizes the significance of what Galadriel did.

  7. RE: Number 4; I believe – and I might be wrong – there is the tiniest, briefest, blithest mention of murder in Concerning Hobbits that invites some further discussion in this theory. Now, I might be making that up, but I’m eager to look it up when I get the chance.

  8. Regarding number 5: it is frustrating, and surprising that we know almost nothing about the history of dragons between the end of the First Age and Smaug. Scatha the Worm, from earlier in the Third Age, is merely mentioned, and it is said that Dain I “was slain at the door of his hall by a great cold-drake”. Thorin claims that “There were lots of dragons in the North in those days” (referring to Thror’s time), but if that had always been the case, then one would have thought that the Witch-king could have made use of them during his rule in Angmar; if so, then it is not mentioned, or maybe it would have required a greater power than him to tame such creatures. Thror’s Map states that “Far to the North are the Grey Mountains & the Withered Heath whence came the Great Worms”; so, the question is, did they breed and multiply there in the same way that the giant spiders did in Nan Dungortheb and later Mirkwood? Smaug’s reference to his youth (“young and tender”) when he captured Erebor would seem to suggest that they did; and even if the “natural” life-span of a dragon was longer than the 6500 years since the War of Wrath, that was still plenty of time to meet with misfortune at the claws of other dragons, or at the swords of heroes.

  9. I had a theory a while ago that Tom Bombadil was one of the blue wizards, actually I came up with that when you posted about him. I guessed that because he could’ve been a wizard like Radagast, that couldn’t fulfill his purpose on Middle-earth and actually devoted himself to lesser beings, and that maybe Tom Bombadil was a name that was given to him. I researched to find out more the blue wizards and found that there’s not much about them, so it could fit somehow.

    • That’s a really appealing theory! Though I’m guessing there’s something in the lore that debunks it.

      However, if it holds up, we need a complementary theory for who the other blue wizard ended up as. My vote is for Goldberry. Because why not.

    • The Blue Wizards are fascinating in how little we know, aren’t they? It does seem, however, pretty conclusive that Bombadil can’t be one of them. For one thing, all the wizards arrived only in the Third Age of Middle-Earth, while Bombadil either says or implies he has been there since the world was created, or at least long before elves and men walked it. Also, the Blue Wizards are said to have passed together into the East to fight the Dark Lord’s works, but were never heard from again–and considering how Gandalf is quite familiar with Bombadil and visits him from time-to-time, this would disqualify Bombadil again from being Istari. There’s also the fact that the wizards are susceptible to bodily needs and to the power of the Ring, while Bombadil isn’t (at least not to the Ring…and I wouldn’t be surprised if eating and drinking are mere recreational activities for him!). My source for this info is Unfinished Tales.

      • Damn, I knew it’d be something like this. Tom = Blue wizard is just too simple an explanation for the mystery of Tom Bombadil.

        Though the wiki says that Tolkien later changed his mind about the blue wizards, and changed their backstories so that they arrived in the Second Age rather than the Third. Is either version canon, or do we just have to infer what we can from Unfinished Tales?

      • OK, never mind. Just checked Unfinished Tales myself, and there’s no ambiguity about the Istari only arriving in the Third Age. Considering that Unfinished Tales was published in 1980, we can presume that Christopher Tolkien made the decision regarding what his dad’s overriding intention was, and dismissed the latter idea.

        It’s amazing that even in Unfinished Tales, the blue wizards are barely more than a footnote. We don’t even know for sure that they’re male, given that they’re only ever referred to in plural. (In fact, the blue wizards being female is now my head-canon until I see anything that contradicts the idea.)

        Really, the blue wizards are ripe for expanded universe material, if only the Tolkien estate would be a bit less strict about approving adaptations. Even if “The Adventures of Pallando” would be no more canon to the books than the Shadow of Mordor video game, it would still be interesting to see.

      • Yeah, I mean, Tom is too much of a jolly person to be an Istar, isn’t he? Also, the Ring had no influence on him (thanks for the reminder). Plus, Tom could be lying about being on Middle-earth since the beginning, but I don’t think he would be able to resist the Ring if he was in fact a wizard. I don’t think Goldberry could be one of the blue wizards… That would make her a blue witch.

        I was thinking about something lately: if Tolkien was alive all of these questions would’ve been easily answered, just like JK Rowling or George RR Martin can answer easily any question that sparks from reading the books. But I’m sure there’s still unpublished material regarding stuff we don’t even dream of. Just you wait.

      • Are you telling me that a female Istar wouldn’t be called a Wizard, yet the obviously male leader of the Nazgul WOULD be called “the Witch-King”?

      • Good to hear! I always kind of assumed at the back of my head that Tolkien intended for a ‘Wizard = good magic, Witch = bad magic’ sort of deal, rather than a gendered thing.

        The idea of at least one of the blue wizards being female is appealing to me, if for no other reason than the Istari – and the cast of Middle Earth in general – being very much a boys’ club as it is.

      • Good point about “witch” not being gendered in Tolkien. Not sure what he would’ve thought of a female Wizard though — he didn’t do it, and maybe hadn’t even considered it. It’d be great to have him around answering questions. In the book of his letters, it seems he often invented new material when answering a fan’s particularly interesting question, so just think of all the new anecdotes we would have!

        I listen to “The Tolkien Professor” podcast by Corey Olsen a lot, and he’s made some interesting speculations about the Blue Wizards before. Such as, we don’t even know if they were successful or not in counteracting Sauron’s works in the East. Perhaps they failed, which is why the armies of Rhun and other barbarians were able to invade Middle-Earth during the War of the Ring? Or maybe their actions prevented said invasions from being even worse? That’s an area where I wouldn’t mind a new movie or story that speculates, because it’s an area that Tolkien himself left open, and because their story would be set in the East, there’s less canonical lore to mess up over there.

      • I always got the impression that the Blue Wizards turned out to be not too dissimilar to Saruman.

        Becoming corrupted and eager for power, they formed their own cults and perhaps, yes, you’re idea of the influence in Rhun and the East may have been as a result of their intervention: all to the favour of Sauron in the end, of course.

  10. IIRC the 1966 Hobbit changes the “practically forever” passage to give a dragon’s lifespan as 1000 years (which could of course be just a Hobbitish colloquialism meaning “a very long time indeed”).

    More proof that “the Arkenstone = a Silmaril” should be considered well-debunked:

    The Arkenstone shone with white light, the Silmarils with the mingled gold/silver light of the Trees.

    The Hobbit states that there was only one Arkenstone in the entire world, there were three Silmarils.

    The Dwarves “cut and fashioned” the Arkenstone; the material that the Silmarils were made of “was more strong than adamant, so that no violence could mar it or break it within the Kingdom of Arda”.

  11. There was one Russian tolkienist… He loved to offer different theories. The most crazy was a guess that Bombadil was a one of Morgoth’s servants.
    – he allows Nazgul to stay in the forest
    – he command evil Old-Man Willow
    – Ben-adar means “fatherless”. Who was “the Father of All”? Iluvatar. So Bombadil was the one who rebelled against Eru
    – Treebeard said that “shadow of the Great Darkness” lies in the north, in Old Forest
    – The One Ring had no effect on Tom, so he must be more powerful in witchcraft than Sauron
    – Aragorn didn’t want to meet him

    It was only a joke, but very interesting 🙂 And sorry for my mistakes in English.

    • I find the thought of evil Bombadil disturbing.
      But I don’t think that’s the case since he returns the Ring to Frodo, he warns them against and rescues them from the barrow-wight, and that he’s apparently a pal of Gandalf. Anyway if he was a bad guy wouldn’t Gandalf just poetically tell him to f**k off? He pretty much does that to all the servants of evil he’s encountered;)
      My own theory is that Tom Bombadil is Eru Illuvatar’s prototype for the peoples of Arda. I consider this because: 1. He is described as a Man but not a very tall one, 2. He is bearded like a dwarf, 3. He is immortal like elves (though to a much greayer degree apparently). I also agree with theories which suggest his being an in-between point between the Maiar or Valar, a spirit of nature, etc. But as Tolkien himself said, “He is” an enigma! 🙂

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