The Mewlips’ Dwelling: Minas Morgul?

Minas Morgul (gargoyle statue)

© New Line Cinema

The Dwelling of Tolkien’s Mysterious Creatures

It’s a strong possibility that Tolkien’s poem, The Mewlips (found in The Adventures of Tom Bombadil), is merely a “fictional” tale passed down through Hobbit folklore.

The mystery and the spine-tingling descriptions give this concise poem a creepy touch. Whether or not the Mewlips are actual creatures inhabiting Middle-earth, has not stopped avid readers theorising where these beings might dwell.

Read the poem here and see how, quite naturally, people seem to attach the location of the Mewlips as being close to the eastern edge of Mirkwood, within the Long Marshes.

The descriptions fit rather seamlessly, but I’ve found another possible location as a contender …

What follows is a “crazy theory”, where I merely compare the poem’s descriptions with locations found in The Lord of the Rings. I am not claiming this is fact; but, rather, fun conjecture.

Minas Morgul

There are a number of intriguing similarities that may be found between what Tolkien describes as the Mewlips’ dwelling, and Frodo and Sam’s journey from the Cross-roads to Minas Morgul.

  • Geography: The Merlock Mountains

“The Shadows where the Mewlips dwell /

Moonless and sunless, the Mewlips hide” (ln. 1 & ln. 16)

I always find it indicative when words have capitalised letters; making them stand out from their general term. Shadows here seems to indicate something other than the natural diffusion of an object or being by rays of light. In this instance, it is clearly a reference to something real and threatening. The Mewlips’ dwelling place is dark and terrifying. These shadows are unnatural and evil, much like Sauron’s defensive veil around the dark land of Mordor.

Nowhere else do we find reference to the Merlock Mountains, which has led many to suggest these are none other than the Misty Mountains themselves. In my view, this mountainous range could very well be none other than the Ephel Dúath, the Mountains of Shadow: another reference to the Shadow as an entity and something other than the physical and natural concept of shadows.

“It may indeed have been daytime now […] but the hobbits could see little difference”

The Two Towers; Chapter 9

The Mewlips

© Alan Lee
  • The Valley and the Trees

Just before venturing into the marshes of the Mewlips, Tolkien tells us that a sinister valley filled with trees must first be crossed.

“In a mouldy valley where the trees are grey” (ln. 14)

“a long and lonely road” (ln. 29)

One can’t help noticing some similarity with the description of the journey towards the Cross-roads, before Gollum leads the hobbits into the Morgul Vale:

“A long-tilted valley, a deep gulf of shadow …”

The Two Towers; Chapter 8

As for the presence of trees, Tolkien tells us in the previous chapter that:

“[…] these were of vast size […] though their tops were gaunt and broken.”

The Two Towers; Chapter 7

“They left the ring of trees and crept along the road towards the mountains.”

– The Two Towers; Chapter 8


© Angus McBride
  • The River and the Marshes

Now we come to the entrance of the Mewlips’ dwelling, which is described as a horrible and reeking stretch of water that transforms into a slimy marsh.

“By a dark pool’s borders without wind or tide” (ln. 15)

“Beside the rotting river-strand/The drooping willows weep” (lns. 9-10)

As Frodo, Sam and Gollum venture inside the valley and look at the towering battlements of Minas Morgul, the horrid environment is described in equally-revolting visuals:

 “Here the road […] passed over the stream […] Wide flats lay on either bank, shadowy meads filled with pale white flowers”

“Luminous these were […] an odour of rottenness filled the air”

– The Two Towers; Chapter 8

Minas Morgul (gate)

© New Line Cinema
  • Gargoyles

As if standing watch at the entrance to the Mewlips’ abode, bestial statues loom over any wandering travellers:

“To knock upon their door/While down the grinning gargoyles stare…” (lns.6-7)

Unforgettable, is the imagery Tolkien provides us with of the two statues standing erect at the head of the bridge that leads to the gates of Minas Morgul:

“Figures stood there at its head, carven with cunning in forms human and bestial, but all corrupt and loathsome.”

– The Two Towers; Chapter 8

It’s striking to see how in both writings the visuals are so vivid and convey a sense of uneasiness and growing horror.

Could these Mewlips have lived inside dungeons within Minas Morgul and come up out of the marshy river to snatch any unsuspecting visitors? Perhaps.

  • Spiders

From the quoted verses, the location of the Mewlips could easily have been referring to Mirkwood. The reference of spiders in the last few verses seems to strongly validate this theory.

“Through the spider-shadows” (ln.30)

Yet, let’s not forget Shelob, the giant spider, living close to the valley of Minas Morgul and dwelling in a vast web of gloom and shadow.

  • Remarks

The similarities exist, but whether or not we should dismiss the validity of the Mewlips as being real creatures is still debatable. Mirkwood and the Long Marshes seem like strong contenders, as all the elements described in the poem seem to fit rather well. Nevertheless, one cannot deny how fitting these descriptions appear alongside the Cross-roads and Minas Morgul.


Another Theory: The Dead Marshes

Of course, there’s that other vague possibility that the Mewlips dwell in none other than the Dead Marshes.

The Dead Marshes

© New Line Cinema

Although the marshes are occupied by the corpses of Elves, Men and Orcs, one cannot fail to spot the similar descriptions just quoted from the poem.

“He [Sam] fell […] into a sticky ooze […] There was a faint hiss, a noisome smell went up, the light flickered […]”

“[Gollum:] ‘You should not look in when the candles are lit.'”

“They lie in all the pools, pale faces, deep deep under the dark water.”

– The Two Towers; Chapter 2


So, what do you think? Are you convinced, or simply dismiss the Mewlips as another example of Hobbit-legend, just like the Were-worms?

Copyright of images belong to the respective artists and studios


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