When J.E.A. Tyler's The Tolkien Companion came out in 1976, it was the first of its kind--a heroic attempt to catalogue Tolkien's vast legendarium. My friends and I (a band of characters who could have stepped right out of the pages of Ethan Gilsdorf's Fantasy Freaks and Gaming Geeks) cherished Tyler's encyclopedia, giving it a place of honor on our bookshelves next to Tolkien's works and our Dungeons and Dragons manuals. For Tyler's book helped legitimize our love for Middle-earth, while feeding our insatiable desire for more information about the heroes, monsters and places in Tolkien's rich universe. "Tony" Tyler was a journalist (and, by the way, the godfather of actor Daniel Craig), and approached his task of categorizing Middle-earth with a scholarly yet whimsical air. After the posthumous publication of Tolkien's The Silmarillion and other works, Tyler revised his book and it was published under the title The Complete Tolkien Companion. This wonderful compliment to Tolkien's world has been reprinted this year by Thomas Dunne Books in a handsome edition that I'm sure will sit on the shelves of many Middle-earth fans for decades to come.
Check out these 14 things you might not know about The Hobbit and Middle-earth, courtesy of The Complete Tolkien Companion.
Selections from J.E.A. Tyler's The Complete Tolkien Companion adapted by Noble Smith, author of The Wisdom of the Shire [Thomas Dunne Books, $22.99].
The single most valuable surviving source of information concerning the discovery of the Ruling Ring of Sauron and the events of the War of the Ring. It was compiled by the Hobbits of the Shire, in particular by the Ring-bearers, Bilbo and Frodo Baggins, and Frodo’s heir Samwise Gamgee, in a great red book with tall covers. A copy of this book was taken by Peregrin Took to King Elessar when the Hobbit retired to Gondor, sixty-three years after Aragorn was crowned King.
The Elvish sword (or long Elvish knife) discovered by Bilbo in the Trolls’ hoard. It was forged nearly seven thousand years before by Elven-smiths of the city-kingdom of Gondolin for the wars against Morgoth—“Dark Foe of the World” and the master of Sauron. Morgoth’s specially bred armies of Orcs and Trolls, augmented by Dragons and Balrogs, captured the Elven city of Gondolin and the blade Sting fell into evil hands. Its history after that time is unknown, but one may surmise that it passed from hoard to hoard until it finally came to rest in a remote Troll-lair. Its cutting edge was sharper by far than any weapon made in later Ages.
Gandalf was one of the Wizards (or Istari) sent to Middle-earth by the god-like entities known as the Valar. The Istari were instructed to guide the peoples of Middle-earth in their struggle against the Dark Lord Sauron, but they were prohibited from using their native-born powers in this effort. The Istari were five in number: Saruman the White, Gandalf the Grey, Radagast the Brown and two “Blue Wizards” whose names may have been Alatar and Pallando. Together they started an Order sworn to the service of “the Secret Fire”—the divine life force of the world.
Rivendell was founded by Elrond after a perilous retreat from Sauron’s army in the previous Age. Called Imladris in the Elven-tongue (meaning “deep-cloven-valley”), Rivendell became a refuge for all Elves and folk of goodwill. The “might of Elrond lay in wisdom not weapons,” for he possessed Vilya, one of the three Elven Rings of Power fashioned by the Elven-smith Celebrimbor. When Aragorn’s father died in battle his mother took the two-year-old to safety in Rivendell, where the young Dúnadan was fostered by Elrond himself.
When Bilbo and Gollum had their Riddle-game in the orc-cave, they were playing a time-honored method of wagering for stakes, for testing another’s sagacity and wit, or simply for passing time. The practice was very ancient, dating certainly back to the Elder Days (the First Age of Middle-earth). The Riddle-game must surely be of Elvish origin: the Elves dearly loved tricks of word and meaning, and The Rules which informally governed the practice, being “both ancient and just,” bore all the hallmarks of early Elven thought.
Thorin was only 24 years of age when the Dragon Smaug descended upon the Dwarves of The Lonely Mountain. Together with his father, brother and sister, he went into exile in Dunland, a country of hills and glens west of the Misty Mountains. In one battle against a host of Orcs his brother was slain and Thorin’s shield was broken. Thorin used a handy branch of oak to defend himself, for there was no time to acquire another shield, thus procuring his name “Oakenshield.”
Orcs were first bred by the fallen god-like being called Melkor (the original name of Morgoth), far back in the Elder Days. They appeared in Middle-earth some time after the awakening of the Elves, and were afterwards believed to be themselves descended from the Elves, for their sires, it was said, had been abducted by Melkor and twisted and corrupted into this new race: evil, filled with his dark will, cannibalistic and cruel. They hated Elves and Men with an abiding hatred which reached back into their beginnings.
Lord of the Great Eagles of the Misty Mountains. He became a friend of Gandalf the Grey when the Wizard healed him of a poisoned wound (probably caused by an orc-arrow). Gwaihir and his kin continued to preserve their friendship with Gandalf, who had accompanied the Dwarves’ expedition across the Misty Mountains. The Great Eagles were noble birds (created by the most powerful of the Valar) fleet and swift, proud and independent—and often cruel and merciless to their foes. Yet they were true allies, and on many occasions their aid staved off certain defeat for the armies of Elves and Men.
Sméagol was in origin closely akin to Hobbit-kind. After murdering his friend and taking the Ring, Sméagol rapidly became unpopular among his kinsfolk, not the least for the habit he developed of making unpleasant glottal noises in his throat (from which he gained the name Gollum). He met Bilbo almost five hundred years after the finding of the Ring. And with that meeting the Great Ring chose for itself a new bearer, for it was plain that as long as it stayed with Gollum it would never again leave the cave under the Misty Mountains. Nearly eighty years later, while searching for the Ring, Gollum was captured by Aragorn and taken to the Elven-king in Mirkwood for safekeeping.
Son of Thranduil, Elven-king of Northern Mirkwood Forest. His people encountered the errant Dwarves of Thorin Oakenshield’s expedition, and his father (somewhat hastily) imprisoned them, for those were watchful days. Decades after these events, Legolas was sent to Rivendell with tidings concerning Gollum who had escaped from Thranduil’s prison. In this way Legolas was present at the Council of Elrond, and so came to be chosen as a member of the Fellowship of the Ring. After the passing of King Elessar, Legolas at last followed the desire in his heart and sailed over the Sea, taking with him his great comrade, Gimli Elf-friend.
The twin sons of Elrond. Like their father they were Peredhil (“Half-elven”) and therefore possessed the eternal life of the Eldar—while Elrond himself remained in Middle-earth. Their mother was captured by Orcs in the Misty Mountains, and the brothers rode swiftly to her aid—and succeeded in rescuing her—but they never forgot the days of torment she experienced at the Orcs’ hands while in captivity. Both fought alongside Aragorn in the War of the Ring. Like their sister Arwen, the brothers elected to become of mortal-kind.
One of the greatest Urulóki —the name given by the High-elven exiles of the First Age to the terrible race of fire-breathing Dragons, bred by Morgoth. After destroying the Dwarf-kingdom of Erebor in the Lonely Mountain, Smaug lay in contented slumber for nearly two full centuries. Best equipped to fight the “Fire-serpents” were the Dwarves, whose armor was the most durable in Middle-earth and who in addition wore masks, also of metal, to terrify their enemies. But the hide of a Dragon was almost impossible to pierce. On the whole, the Urulóki were best left alone.
For nearly two thousand years before Bilbo found the One Ring, the Wise of Middle-earth became aware that an evil force was coalescing in Southern Mirkwood, at a stronghold later called Dol Guldur. For many years this Power was known simply as “The Necromancer.” Undisturbed for centuries, the sorcerer of Dol Guldur quietly hatched his plots and worked his evil, well content that his enemies remained unaware of his true identity. For he was in fact Sauron the Great—the self-styled Ruler of Middle-earth, declared Enemy of the Free Peoples and servant of Morgoth in the Elder Days.
Bilbo was the son of Bungo Baggins—a well-to-do Hobbit who originally built Bag End into the Hill of Hobbiton. (The name Hobbit comes from the world Holbytlan meaning “Hole-builders.”) Bilbo was the longest-lived Hobbit in the history of the Shire, his years in Middle-earth totaling one hundred and thirty-one. His adoption of the orphaned Frodo (whose father and mother were both drowned in a boating accident) was an act of great philanthropy, well repaid. Unlike most Hobbits, neither Bilbo nor Frodo ever married, and their heirs were Samwise Gamgee and his family. The tenth child and fifth son of Master Samwise of Bag End was named Bilbo.