Tolkien's Eye of Sauron w/3 Rings drawn by Mike Brinza

                         Compiled and indexed by Mike Brinza
Rev. 12/04/05 
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This document is a compilation of Frequently Asked Questions, or likely-to-be-asked questions, about the works of J.R.R. Tolkien, all of which are answered (or at least addressed) by the Professor himself in his own words as published in Humphrey Carpenter's The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien.  There are no answers typed here—only the numbers (and in the case of very long letters, the page numbers) of the letters which address the question.  If you are already familiar with this book, then you may wish to skip the next couple paragraphs and proceed to the questions.  If you have not yet read or purchased this book, then read on.

During the composition and the publication process of his literary works, J.R.R. Tolkien continually corresponded with friends, family members, colleagues, and his publishers, and for years after the publication of The Lord of the Rings, with his readers as well.  Indeed, many of his letters are direct (inasmuch as Tolkien strove to be direct) answers to questions about which people had written to him.  His letters contain much background and expository material that never made it to publication, and also a great deal of explanation of his intent or purpose.  He often went to great lengths to clear up readers' misunderstandings.  In a few instances, however, Tolkien didn't actually provide a clear, if any, answer to the question (for example, "Who is Tom Bombadil?" or "What happened to the Entwives?"), although he did address these topics in his letters, thus leaving us with at least the final word on the subject from the author himself.

While there is a wealth of information on The Lord of the Rings, sadly, there is precious little on The Hobbit and The Silmarillion.  The following is a short extract from the Introduction to the Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien:

Between 1918 and 1937 few letters survive, and such as have been preserved record (unfortunately) nothing about Tolkien's work on The Silmarillion and The Hobbit, which he was writing at this time.  But from 1937 onwards, there is an unbroken series of letters to the end of his life, giving, often in great detail, an account of the writing of The Lord of the Rings, and of later work on The Silmarillion, and often including lengthy discussions of the meaning of his writings.
A special note on letter #131 (written in 1951): When Allen & Unwin declined to publish The Silmarillion together with The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien hoped that Milton Waldman of Collins would publish both books.  Tolkien wrote a very long letter to Waldman demonstrating how the The Lord of the Rings and The Silmarillion are interdependent and indivisible.  The original letter was 10,000 words in length, and although slightly abridged in the book, it runs for 18 ½ pages.  This letter should be required reading for every serious Tolkien fan with serious questions about his legendarium.  In fact, a part of this letter has been included as a foreword to the new second edition of The Silmarillion.  Also, since Letters has been released in paperback it has become more readily obtainable than it's been in the past.  The new edition also has a revised and expanded index compiled by Wayne G. Hammond and Christina Scull.

It should also be understood that there exist other authoritative resources for information on the same topics listed here (e.g. Humphrey Carpenter's The Authorized Biography, and Christopher Tolkien's History of Middle Earth series just to name a few), and that these other resources and Tolkien's letters are not always in agreement.  It is also important to take into  consideration the date of any letter being consulted and its place in time with regards to the publication of his books or of other source materials which reflect Tolkien's views.  This FAQ has two functions: primarily as a reference--a kind of enhanced index, and secondarily as a FAQ in the more traditional sense.

If, by now or after reading this FAQ, you are considering purchasing The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, you can do so immediately by clicking on one of the links at the bottom of the page.

And now, onto the questions . . .

Getting the books published
The Legendarium
The Hobbit
The Mythology
Origins of The Lord of the Rings
People/Races of Middle-Earth
The Lord of the Rings -- The Books and the Titles
Creatures in Middle-Earth
LOTR -- Story Elements
LOTR -- The Rings
LOTR -- Sauron/The One Ring
LOTR -- Meanings
Tolkien's Opinions
The Silmarillion

I.  Getting the books published

  1.  When did Tolkien submit the typescript of The Hobbit to Allen & Unwin?    #9
  2.  What were Tolkien's comments on the jacket-flap for The Hobbit?   #15
  3.  How did Tolkien react to the comments of Allen & Unwin's reader on The Silmarillion and "Beren & Luthien"?
            #19, #294 (p.374)
  4.  What were Tolkien's initial efforts in getting The Lord of the Rings and The Silmarillion published?
            #123, #124, #125, #126, #131 (p. 160-161)
  5.  Why didn't Collins publish LOTR and/or The Silmarillion?   #133
  6.  What are some of the details of the publishing of LOTR? #135, #137, #145, #146
  7.  How did Tolkien deal with translations of his works? #188, #190, #204, #217, #228, #229, #239, #352
  8.  What did Tolkien think of the cover art for the first Ballantine edition of The Hobbit?    #276
  9.  In later years, how hopeful was Tolkien that The Silmarillion would get published?    #322, #335, #353
10.  What were sales of The Hobbit and LOTR like in Tolkien's lifetime?   #340

II. The Hobbit

  1.  What is the translation of the runes on The Hobbit dust jacket?    #12
  2.  Which pictures were included in the early editions of The Hobbit?     #15
  3.  What are the circumstances of the 2nd edition of The Hobbit?    #128, #129
  4.  Did Tolkien regret having written The Hobbit "for children"?      #165, #215, #234
  5.  Was the 'thunder-battle' in The Hobbit inspired by a real-life event?    #232, #306

III.  Origins of The Lord of the Rings

  1.  What was Tolkien's first response to the idea of "more about hobbits"?    #17
  2.  Was Tom Bombadil ever considered as the hero of a possible "new story"?    #19
  3.  When did Tolkien first mention the first chapter of a "new story"?    #20
  4.  When did Tolkien first mention the title to a Hobbit sequel?    #335
  5.  Did the World Wars have any influence on LOTR? #226

IV.  The Lord of the Rings – The Books and the Titles

  1.  How did Tolkien feel about dividing LOTR into 3 volumes?    #136, #139
  2.  Is The Lord of the Rings a trilogy?  #149, #165, #252
  3.  What was the original selling price of LOTR? #135, #136
  4.  How were the volume titles arrived at?  #136, #136 (note #1), #139, #140, #143
  5.  Were there titles for the individual "books" (1 through 6)?    #136, #136 (note #1), #139, #140, #143
  6.  Which towers are referred to in the title The Two Towers?   #140 (incl. note 1),  #143

V.  LOTR – Story Elements

  1.  Who was the real hero of LOTR?   #131 (p. 160-161)
  2.  What was Gandalf's role in the story of LOTR? #156
  3.  Did Gandalf have foreknowledge of what was going to happen?    #156, #200
  4.  How did Gandalf return from death?   #156, #181
  5.  What is the reason for Frodo's "moral failure" at the climax of the story?    #181, #191, #192, #246
  6.  Were any of the characters in LOTR politically motivated?    #183
  7.  Why didn't the Eagles come to the characters' rescue more often?    #210
  8.  How could Eowyn switch from loving Aragorn to Faramir so quickly?    #244
  9.  Did Eowyn 'settle' for Faramir since she couldn't have Aragorn?    #244
10.  How did Arwen arrange for Frodo to sail West?  #246
11.  How clearly did Frodo understand what happened at Mt. Doom and what happened to himself?    #246
12.  Why do some readers like Sam while others dislike him? #246
13.  How did Sam's understanding (or lack of understanding) of things shape the events of the story?    #246
14.  What might have happened if Gollum had gained possession of  the Ring a little sooner?    #246
15.  What might have happened if Frodo had claimed ownership of the Ring (without being attacked by Gollum)?    #246
16.  Did Shadowfax go West with Gandalf?    #268

VI.  LOTR – The Rings

  1.  Did the Elven rings confer invisibility upon the wearers? #131 (p. 152)
  2.  What properties did the Rings of Power have? #131 (p. 152)
  3.  Why did the Elves want to make the Three Rings? #181
  4.  Where were the Nine Rings at the end of the Third Age? #246

VII.  LOTR – Sauron/The One Ring

  1.  Is Sauron 'the Necromancer' of The Hobbit? #131 (p. 152, #157-158, 1st footnote on p. 158)
  2.  What was the effect on Sauron of not having the One Ring?    #131 (p. 153)
  3.  What would happen to Sauron if someone else found and possessed the One Ring?    #131
  4.  What happened to Sauron when the One Ring was destroyed? #131 (p. 153), #200
  5.  What are the effects on the other rings of the destruction of the One?    #144 (p. 176)
  6.  What is the nature Sauron's evil (i.e. his "fall")?  #183
  7.  What happened to Sauron each time he was vanquished?  #200
  8.  How could Sauron be defeated by Ar-Pharazôn when Sauron had the One Ring?    #211
  9.  How was Sauron able to take the One Ring with him after being vanquished in the fall of Númenor?    #211
10.  How would Sauron have reclaimed the Ring from Frodo or Gollum?  #246
11.  Would the Ring have given the possessor any power over the Ringwraiths?    #246
12.  What would happen in a direct confrontation between Sauron and a ringbearer?    #246
13.  What was Sauron's physical form at the time of LOTR?   #246
14.  How would Gandalf have acted if he had taken possession of the ring and become Ring-Lord?    #246

VIII.  LOTR – Meaning

  1.  Is The Lord of the Rings an allegory?  #34, #109, #131 (p. 144, 145), #144, #186, #203
  2.  Is there a message in The Lord of the Rings? #208

IX.  The Silmarillion

  1.  What is the significance of the story of "Beren & Luthien"?    #131 (p. 149)

X.  The Legendarium

  1.  What did Tolkien say about inconsistencies and mistakes in the mythology/stories?    #117
  2.  How is LOTR 'tied' to The Silmarillion? #124, #131 (incl. commentary), #144 (par. 4), #191
  3.  Did Tolkien have an overall name or title for the entire legendarium?    #125, #227
  4.  Why aren't there more stories of the 2nd Age? #131 (p. 150-151)
  5.  Why did Tolkien abandon "The New Shadow" (the potential sequel to LOTR)?    #256
  6.  How does the map of Middle-Earth correspond to the map of the real world?    #294 (p. 376)

XI.  The Mythology

  1.  What is the nature of magic in Tolkien's mythology? #131, #155
  2.  If evil cannot create, why did Treebeard say Sauron made trolls and orcs?    #153 (p. 190-191)
  3.  Were the Valar gods?    #154, #286
  4.  What is the relationship of (or difference between) Elves and Men regarding the creation?    #181
  5.  What was the nature of Sauron and other Maiar? #200
  6.  Who is greater and more powerful, Manwe or Melkor? #211
  7.  What "Age" are we in now (i.e. during Tolkien's lifetime?) #211 (footnote on p. 283)
  8.  What happened to Elves when they died in battle? #245

XII.  People/Races of Middle-Earth

1.  Is race/racism an element in Tolkien's works?   #29, #30
2.  Are there any further physical descriptions of hobbits? #27
3.  What is the nature of hobbits?    #131 (2nd footnote on 158)
4.  Are Tolkien's wizards more like sorcerers or angels? #131 (1st footnote on p. 159), #156
5.  Which is older, Ents, or Tom Bombadil?    #131 (p. 160-161)
6.  Who or what is Tom Bombadil?    #144 (p. 174, 178-179), #153 (p. 191-192)
7.  What was Beorn?    #144 (p. 178)
8.  Was Beorn still around during LOTR?   #144 (p.178)
9.  What is the nature of Elves and their immortality?  #153 (p. 189, 192-193)
10. Are the elves all good and enlightened?    #154
11. Was Gollum evil?    #181
12. Is the notion of an entire race of irredeemably wicked beings (Orcs) heretical?    #269

XIII.  Creatures in Middle-Earth

  1.  Was there supposed to be a dragon in LOTR? #35
  2.  What happened to the dragons?    #144 (p. 177)
  3.  Was there supposed to be a giant in LOTR? #35
  4.  Are Orcs and goblins the same thing?   #131 (p. 150-151; 2nd footnote on 159.), #144 (p. 178)
  5.  What is the origin of Orcs?    #144 (p. 177-178), #153 (p. 190, 195)
  6.  What did Orcs look like?    #210 (comment #19)
  7.  What are Wargs?    #297
  8.  What are Balrogs?    #144 (p. 180)
  9.  What is the origin of the Ents?    #247
10.  What happened to the Entwives?    #144 (p. 179), 338
11.  Was Shelob a minion of Sauron?    #144 (p. 180)
12.  Are the Nazguls' winged steeds pterodactyls?  #211

XIV.  Culture/Society

  1.  Why is there no religion in LOTR#142, #153 (footnote on p. 193), #156, #165, #211
  2.  What was the culture of the Númenóreans of Gondor?  #211
  3.  What did the crown of Gondor look like?  #211 (illustration)
  4.  What was the culture of Gondor in the 3rd Age? #131 (p. 157-158), #154
  5.  What was the culture of Rohan?    #211
  6.  If hobbits gave presents to others on their own birthdays, why in the recounting of how Gollum acquired the Ring in "The Shadow of the Past" does it appear that Smeagol's people received presents on their birthdays?    #214
  7.  What were the hobbit gift-giving customs?  #214
  8.  What were the structure and customs of hobbit families, households, and heirs?    #214

XV.  Language

  1.  How did language relate to Tolkien's stories? #131 (p. 143), #144 (p. 174-176), #205, #294, #297 (p. 374-375)
  2.  Why does Sam say "O Elbereth Gilthoniel" rather than "A Elbereth Gilthoniel" in "The Choices of Master Samwise"?  #211
  3.  Did Tolkien plan to produce a grammar and vocabulary of Quenya and Sindarin? #313
  4.  Did Tolkien ever devise numerals to accompany the Fëanorian letters?  #344
  5.  Why did Men tend to use Quenya for names more so than Elves who tended to use Sindarin? #347 (answer 3)

XVI.  Nomenclature

  1.  What is the origin of the name 'Smaug'?  #25
  2.  How did Tolkien feel about people using names from his books for naming other things?    #258, #342, #345
  3.  How did Tolkien come up with some of his words and names?    #297, #324
  4.  What was Tolkien's reaction/response to the idea of the inclusion of the word 'hobbit' in the OED?    #316

XVII.  Tolkien's Opinions

  1.  Did Tolkien like Pauline Baynes' artwork?  #120, #231, #233, #235, #260
  2.  How did Tolkien feel about the use of accents in acted performances of LOTR?    #193
  3.  What were Tolkien's comments on dramatic performances of LOTR?    #194, #198, #201, #207, #210
  4.  What did Tolkien think of the Tolkien Society of America? #276
  5.  What did Tolkien think of "fan fiction" vis-à-vis extensions of his own works?    #292
  6.  What were some of Tolkien's favorite passages in LOTR? #294 (p. 376)

XVIII.  Miscellaneous

  1.  How did Tolkien pronounce his name?   #347 (postscript)
  2.  What is the origin of the Inklings?   #298
  3.  Are Tolkien's works written for children?  #215, #234
  4.  What is unique about the poem Errantry? #133
  5.  Was there a real Sam Gamgee?    #184
  6.  Did Tolkien enjoy giving interviews?   #293, #294 (p. 372-373)

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The questions in this FAQ were derived, compiled, and indexed by Mike Brinza.  © 2001, 2005  Thanks to Conrad Dunkerson and Steuard Jensen for their helpful suggestions and observations.  Acknowledgement to Conrad for questions #V.4 and VI.4, to Steuard for question #VII.13, and to 'Mark' from the JREF Forums for question #II.4.
If you are contemplating purchasing a new copy of The Lord of the Rings and can't decide which edition to buy, take a look at my Guide to Currently Available U.S. Editions page.
Rendering of Tolkien's Eye of Sauron device drawn from scratch using Adobe Illustrator and incorporating Harri Perälä's Tengwar Cursive font.  No scans were used.
Guide To Currently Available U.S. Editions
The FAQ-Guide to the Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien
The Gallery of Tolkien Book Covers
Other Works and Books by Tolkien
Selected Out of Print Editions
Sources and Influences
Guide to Audio Editions
British Editions of Tolkien
Hard-to-find British Tolkien Items
Other recommended Tolkien resources
Sorting out the DVDs