Go to the bottom for a short note on the People and Places of Middle-earth.
Mr. Frodo Baggins is almost middle-aged, but he still looks young, and the neighbours are getting suspicious. Frodo has inherited a small, round secret from his cousin, Bilbo ("Mad") Baggins. He is about to discover that the secret is larger and rounder than he thought - world-sized, in fact. Honest, well-meaning Frodo goes looking for help and advice instead of running very fast in the other direction. Poor Frodo.
Frodo means "wise" and Baggins means "packed lunch", which sums up a thoughtful Hobbit. His ancestors were probably grocers.
Frodo is the real hero of The Lord of the Rings, but as he is about three and a half feet tall (normal for folk in The Shire, known to some as "halflings", and thought by others to be mythical), people tend to overlook him. Except ...
Sam mows the lawns and does other odd jobs for Frodo and his neighbours.
He thinks very highly of Mr. Frodo and old Mr. Bilbo, who taught him to read
and write (
meaning no harm by it, says Sam's dad). Sam is normally
a sensible young man, but he has an outlandish idea about wanting to see Elves.
So he's up for a bit of travel even if it means leaving The Shire. His life
experience encompasses nothing more dangerous than fierce dogs, bad-tempered
Hobbits and the occasional large house spider; but this is a better preparation
for the outside world than you might expect.
Samwise means "half wise" and "Gamgee" means a cottony material. Tolkien borrowed the name Gamgee from a real-life character he met on holiday.
Elderly Bilbo is not in the least mad, but somewhere along the line he developed an unhealthy taste for adventure, strange languages, foreign lands, meeting Elves, and so on (possibly from his poor dear mother). Worse that that, he writes poetry. He is not ageing fast enough, and he sometimes vanishes suddenly. When Bilbo vanishes conclusively, his friends and neighbours are rather relieved. But to his cousin Lobelia's fury, Bilbo has made Frodo his sole heir - fair and square with no contradictions. Lobelia doesn't know how lucky she is.
Nobody knows what "Bilbo" means. Bilbo is, of course, the hero of The Hobbit.
A cousin of Frodo's on the Brandybuck side, Merry is just old enough to have some sense, but not wary enough to run away when he hears that Frodo's in trouble. He's also the son of the Master of Buckland and comes of a long and (for Hobbits) warlike line. All he has to do is convince the tall people that someone knee-high to an undead homicidal wraith-lord can contribute something positive to the war effort.
The name "Meriadoc" is Welsh or Cornish. Even Tolkien ('A Guide to the Names in The Lord of the Rings' in A Tolkien Compass, Ed. Jared Lobdell, Open Court, La Salle, Illinois, 1975) does not give a meaning for "Meriadoc". He probably chose it to match the short name "Merry". "Brandybuck" is given as "the Brandywine (border) river" + buc/bucca, a male deer or goat (Old English) (a familiar greeting to a male friend in Old Norse).
Pippin is a young adult and, contrary to rumours flying around, he doesn't spend his time putting his foot through floorboards. But he could still be in that inquisitive stage most of us go through aged about 8. However, he comes from a large, boisterous family and, as the story unfolds, several people owe their lives to his keen sense of how to survive any crisis not of his own making.
Pippin smokes, of course. All Hobbits smoke, but as they naturally live
so long and die of such natural causes*, they haven't worked out that it's
bad for them yet.
*Like falling down a flight of steps in a bath chair - but that's not in this story.
Peregrine is an old name meaning a traveller or pilgrim, and Took is a Hobbit name of no known meaning. Pippin, Peregrine's short name, is descended from Pepin (L. Pippinus) (also known as "The Short"), the name of the father of King Charlemagne in Dark Age Europe, as well as a kind of small orange-coloured dessert apple, and is popular with owners of ginger cats.
It's easy to miss the fact that Gollum is a Hobbit. He doesn't eat much, for a start. Gollum is driven by a need verging on madness, and he no longer finds riddles entertaining. He wishes he was back under his quiet, dark mountain; but more than that, he wants his ring back. The question is, will his obsession lead him to kill someone, and if so, who will his victim be?
Gollum, who is pivotal to the story, is a strongly divided personality who is generally considered to be the most complex character study in The Lord of the Rings.
Smeagol ("one who digs in and investigates") is called Gollum because he makes odd noises when he talks.
Gandalf is a very, very, old wizard and firework-maker by profession. It's a useful business that gets him invited to social gatherings from Dale in the east to Hobbiton in the west, Rivendell in the north to the powerful city of Minas Tirith in the south. He travels still further afield, not always by invitation. Several decades of research in some tight corners have convinced him that Frodo's small round problem is indeed the bigger problem he fears it is.
Gandalf is old and his eyebrows are long, but he knows more than anyone else, so where the problem goes, he must go too. At least, that's the plan. Unfortunately there are some people who can do more fire at once even than Gandalf ...
Despite Gandalf's advanced age, he runs consistently ahead in polls asking "which character readers most admire", "which character readers would most wish to resemble" or even "which character readers would most like to date". He has a long wiry beard, smokes like a chimney, and is not as tall as he looks. Gandalf has charisma. Even his horse has charisma.
"Gandalf" is a name from the Old Norse Eddas, meaning (in this context) something like "spirit-being with a wooden staff (or spiritual advisor)". Mithrandir is an Elvish word meaning "grey pilgrim".
Like Frodo, Aragorn is getting middle aged. Unlike Frodo, he looks it. The locals call him Strider, his clothing bears the scars of long-distance hiking, and he admits that he hangs around behind hedges. His sword is broken. Tall, dark, muddy and mysterious, Aragorn isn't the sort of person you accept lifts from. However, after serious misgivings, the Hobbits accept that he wants to be helpful, knows shortcuts, and is recommended by Gandalf. He also smokes a pipe. So that's OK.
The first sign that he is respected by important people is when a tall Elf runs up in the middle of nowhere and says he's been looking for him all over. Then an aspiring lord from a distant country arrives, asking about a broken sword. Aragorn gets the sword fixed. And it's not exactly even his sword. What can it all mean?
Aragorn runs Gandalf a close second in the "character everyone wants to be" stakes; worse than that, they seem to want to marry him.
Even Tolkien did not get around to working out what the name "Aragorn" meant until very late in his career, but it was originally the name of Gandalf's horse. (We said Gandalf's horse has charisma.)
Boromir is a very, very, very distant relation of Aragorn's and, as if to prove it, when he first turns up he's well dressed but muddy, having travelled half way across the known world to solve a riddle he heard in a dream. Well, his brother heard it first. (Cynics have asked whether Boromir claimed to share the vision in order to bag the quest.)
He is proud, well-bred, argumentative, and has somewhat fixed ideas about what he needs to achieve and how to do it. Boromir is basically a good man, but his narrow outlook and lack of imagination may cause problems for the company. Or for himself, of course.
Boromir is tall, dark and noble when not losing his temper.
"Mir" is an elvish word meaning "jewel". Boro- may mean "(fiery) red" or may mean "steadfast".
The travelling company seems to spend a lot of time telling people that Gimli is a Dwarf. As he is short, carries a large axe and dresses in chain mail, you'd think it was obvious. What the party is actually saying is that Gimli is their Dwarf. Dwarves (sic) are great traders and fighters but don't go into partnership with other races very often.
Gimli is with the expedition as the representative of his people, and in the process does some very un-dwarf-like things (mainly involving Elves) while never departing from his true dwarvish nature. He is touchy, but no touchier, it seems, than the average Elf. He prefers to stay away from trees with eyes.
He loves all things made of stone - and the Lady Galadriel, who is two feet taller than him, a good deal older, and married to someone else. Truly for Gimli the quest of the Ring is a learning experience, but nothing his staunch nature cannot live up to.
Many people, especially short broad ones with beards, identify strongly with Gimli.
"Gimli" may be an Old Norse name of no known meaning.
(Son of Thranduil the Elven-king of Eryn Lasgalen, or Greenwood the Great, formerly Mirkwood. Also known as Greenleaf. Legolas, not the wood.)
JRR Tolkien is rightly famous for his invention of convincing imaginary languages, and there is no doubt about it - once you get involved with Elves you will quickly be up to your ears in complicated personal names. Fortunately, most of them are musical and attractive to say, however you say them.
Legolas is with the expedition as a representative of the Elves. As Elves live indefinitely and don't visibly age, Legolas could be viewed as young, tallish and handsome in a subaltern-before-the-haircut way. He dresses mostly in green, and carries a bow and a medium-length carving knife, which offers a hint that he is no wimp in the combat department.
JRR Tolkien has said that Legolas has the least to do of all the Company; but he is the representative of day-to-day Elvishness, and his developing friendship with Gimli in defiance of the hereditary irritability between their two peoples is one of the most consistent and optimistic threads in the story.
"Legolas" is an Elvish name which translates "Greenleaf".
(Called the Lady of Lórien; lady Galadriel; the lady of Lóthlorien; queen Galadriel (but only by Gimli), and so on.)
As there are no women among the travelling company in The Lord of the Rings, the heroines of the story appear on stage for a comparatively short duration. Despite this, they leave an indelible mark, and Galadriel most of all.
Until the company arrives unexpectedly and in some distress in the woodlands of Lothlorien, Galadriel is not once mentioned; thereafter, hardly an event befalls the Heroes but one of them calls Galadriel to mind and is encouraged by the memory and the thought of her active vigilance in her distant woodland fastness.
Being an Elf-women and very old, Galadriel is also naturally tall, wise and beautiful. She is also a married grandmother, so expect no romance except the courtly kind. The smitten hero is Gimli the Dwarf, who responds rather to her generosity and understanding than her beauty.
"Galadriel" is an Elvish name which translates "light-crowned-(lady)", a name given to her by Celeborn to celebrate her golden hair.
Celeborn (pronounced with a "k") is Galadriel's tall, wise and handsome husband. Her true lover for countless eons (yéni unótimë), Celeborn is also a bit highly strung, providing a handy foil for Galadriel's greater wisdom and calm. In this way Galadriel also represents the figure of the queen who restrains the impulsive fears of her male consort and fosters peace between nations.
"Celeborn" is an Elvish name meaning something like "silver-tall (not unlike a large tree)". See Unfinished Tales by JRR Tolkien.
Descended from two mixed-race marriages of High Elves and mortal Men in ages past, wise Elrond is the last heir of the elvish High Kings in Middle-earth. Once a leader of armies, Elrond has lived a quiet life in a secluded valley for the last 4400 years (give or take a couple of wars), working with Gandalf, Galadriel and other wise people to care for the lands around them. He even puts up with Hobbits reciting poetry about his parents*.
Elrond heals the sick and never says anything mean, but he can still hint
(in front of a committee) that a three-and-a half-foot-tall young-middle-aged
man is the right person to carry an unexploded ring into a life-threatening
situation. And get the answer "I will".
Elrond's house at Imladris (Rivendell) is the meeting place and haven for
all the races concerned with the welfare of Middle-earth. Coming soon to a
house name near you.
(* An extensive subject for poetry. See "Earendil the Mariner", below.)
"Elrond" is an Elvish name meaning "vault of stars".
Eomer has recently become the heir of the king of Rohan, a nation of horse-breeders. Currently his job is to patrol one of the border sectors of his homeland with a troop of armed horsemen and nothing to guide him but a growing suspicion that all is not well with the neighbours.
The arrival of Aragorn focuses Eomer sharply. For a start, Aragorn may be the only person he's ever met who is taller than him. While we grow old and cynical, Eomer remains 25, devoted, quick to trust his instincts and ever so slightly hyperbolic. He's also tall, blonde and wears pigtails. Floating anxiety is something we will never associate with Eomer.
When he finds himself cut off by the enemy, he laughs. Told he's riding to almost certain death, he says he doesn't understand this complicated stuff, and owes Aragorn a favour. Finding his sister dead 300 miles from where he last saw her, he just goes a bit berserk. It's not till he discovers that she's only half dead that he betrays the smallest sign that he knows how to worry.
"Eom(a)ere" is an Old English poetic name meaning "famous horse".
All the floating anxiety not suffered by Eomer settles on the shoulders of his younger sister Eowyn. Eomer keeps himself occupied patrolling his boundaries and chasing horse-rustlers. 23-year-old Eowyn sits beside the throne of her much-loved foster-father, watching the king grow older and iller and ever more afraid of what is happening beyond his borders.
A capable horsewoman, there is no doubt that Eowyn would like to kick some ass, but that isn't her job. Tall, fair, virginal, and educated from birth to carry the drinks round, Eowyn is a Lady meet to marry the Lord of a great kingdom. Instead, she meets Aragorn.
He's tall, charismatic and engaged. Her life, held together largely by convention and willpower, begins to fall apart. Too sane to go mad and too decent to get even, she does what any real woman does in these situations - she gets a new hat.
Eowyn with her notable hair and her pseudopterodactyline antagonist is one of the most painted scenes in The Lord of the Rings. Just about every Tolkien artist has a version of it (or two).
"Eowyn" is a Tolkien original name built of Old English elements, meaning "horse-joy".
Faramir is the younger son of Denethor, the hereditary Steward of Gondor. Somewhat in the shadow of his older brother Boromir, Faramir nonetheless is the recipient of the mysterious dream that sends Boromir riding north to find Imladris, a broken sword and a Halfling. So it is with some surprise that Faramir finds that the Halfling has (unwittingly) come to him. Tall, dark and around 35, as part of the thin green line of undercover skirmishers defending Gondor's tattered eastern border, Faramir is kept under constant pressure by his increasingly stressed father until the situation breaks down under the strain. All he has to do now is survive the best care his family can give him.
"Mir" is an elvish word meaning "jewel". There is no gloss on "Fara-" but it may mean "hunter".
Ever since the southern kingdom of Gondor ran out of kings after a high-level conference with the Lord of the Nazgul just under a thousand years earlier, the Stewardship of the realm has been passed down from heir to heir. This is the custom of Gondor, and Denethor is determined to be faithful to the laws of his people. He seems to be fighting off old age and anxiety more successfully than his neighbour Theoden, yet under examination he is equally pessimistic. If his leadership cracks, who will rally the people of Minas Tirith as their city burns?
"Denethor" is an old Elvish name meaning "Son of Dan", the name of a first-age Elvish tribal chieftain. As such it has no significance apart from being old and traditional.
Death has taken the once-vigorous Theoden's wife, sister and brother-in-law and now his only son. War is gathering just beyond his borders, and his people's horses are being carried off by raiders. He is old and infirm, and now without a son to take his place. A corrupt councillor at his ear whispers that his only heir, his nephew Eomer, is a traitor. Theoden needs a breath of fresh air to clear his mind, but all he can remember is a wizard who strode in, spread the bad news around and rode off on his best horse (asking first, of course). Not too high a price, says the corrupt councillor, to be rid of Gandalf Stormcrow. And all Eomer can do is watch and grit his teeth.
"Theoden" is an Old English poetic word for a king. So is "Thengel". Most kings of Rohan seem to be called "king" in some form or another.
Treebeard is an Ent. Ents are the most uniquely Tolkienian beings in The Lord of the Rings or for that matter anywhere in Tolkien's work; perhaps even more uniquely Tolkienian than Hobbits. Treebeard looks like a tree, moves like a tree and talks like an Ent. Ents are the Shepherds of the Trees. They live their lives extremely slowly and have a great aversion to haste. But when someone brings them news of a great danger growing on their northern border, the resulting committee meeting lasts only three days! Any arborealist can tell you that a tree will bring down a building in time. Ents have haste stored up just for times like these.
"Treebeard" translates the Elvish name "Fangorn" (beard-of-tree), which is also the name of the forest where he lives. "Ent" is an Old English word for a giant being.
Who is The Lord of the Rings? Even without the ruling ring, there is no doubt that Sauron is still the master. Having lost his looks in an over-hasty earthquake a bit over 3,000 years earlier, the Dark Lord sensibly stays holed up in his fortress, the impregnable Barad-Dur (a.k.a. The Dark Tower) and drives his followers and minions on with fear and promises. Last time, it was personal. This time, all he wants is to be master of the world and all its peoples. As an ancient being of otherworldly might, what he wants he generally gets. Catch: when he made the ruling ring, he built much of his own primaeval power into it. Then he lost the ring. Now his agents are searching for it, and they have recently heard of "Hobbits".
Sauron is indubitably the villain of the piece. Not only is he trying to take over the world, but rumour says he strips his victims right down to their bare souls before he starts torturing them.
"Sauron" is not given a meaning in The Lord of the Rings, although Tolkien elsewhere relates it to an earlier version "Gorthaur", which means something like "great terror".
(The Lord of the Ringwraiths, the Witch King, the Black Captain, etc. He is not called by name in The Lord of the Rings.)
The Lord of the Nazgul is the imprisoned spirit of a former king of the Dúnedain, a people descended from the advanced civilisation of the Númenoreans after their island homeland sank due to a grave miscalculation about how far they could emigrate westwards. Some of the ex-Númenoreans, both then and earlier, chose to follow Sauron in return for promises of earthly power. Unfortunately this appears to have involved losing most of their physical presence and all of their independence, and who knows what else. The Lord of the Nazgul is therefore (possibly) another distant cousin of Aragorn's. Sauron uses the Nazgul as his agents of terror. They can wreak terrible havoc on body and spirit, but they have certain problems if they lose their clothing or their steeds. Also they aren't very smart about interpreting cryptic ancient prophecies.
See above. There are nine of them, one for each of the rings that Sauron gave to mortal Men. Never accept rings from strangers. The Ringwraiths have flying steeds and spine-chilling voices not entirely unlike air-raid sirens. (Tolkien profoundly disliked air warfare).
We mentioned that there are people who can do more fire even than Gandalf. He's large. He's dangerous. He bursts into flames, and he's on for about four minutes. More debate has been expended on the exact nature of the Balrog than just about any other topic in The Lord of the Rings. It just goes to show, to paraphrase Gandalf, that you can confront mankind with the eternal verities of life and destiny, and they will sit on the edge of ruin and talk about whether the big chap in the cavern had wings or not. We think this is a phenomenon that JRR Tolkien did not anticipate. The Balrog's relations say they never expected the fuss, either.
"Balrog" is derived from an older Elvish word meaning "demon of terror". Believe it!
Ancient spirits of great power walk among mankind. Some, like the Balrog, appear openly as spirits of destruction and terror. They are bad people. Some, like the Istari, or wizards, live the lives of elderly human beings, but long-lived and with rather more energy than most pensioners. They have been sent by the Valar, the powers who shaped the world, to help the people of the world resist the forces of evil. Saruman the White is their chief, and the head of the White Council, the executive body of those people called The Wise. He stays at home and out of sight a lot these days - which is presumably why he can afford to wear pastels. (His colleagues are Gandalf the Grey and Radagast the Brown.)
Both "Saruman" (Old English) and "Curunir" (Elvish) mean "clever person".
It's not a plot spoiler to say that she is Aragorn's fiancee. Not a great deal is known about Arwen, Elrond's daughter and Galadriel's grand-daughter, an Elf by upbringing (and mostly Elf by breeding), said to be the likeness of her ancestress Luthien Tinuviel, the fairest maiden ever born. "Such loveliness in living thing Frodo had never seen before nor imagined in his mind ..." the story says. Lucky for Aragorn. Not, perhaps, so lucky for Arwen. Her main occupation at the time of The Lord of the Rings seems to be embroidery (or maybe appliqué). The last thing the narration tells us before we get Frodo's reaction is that her mother was tortured by Orcs. Not an entirely quiet life, then. Arriving late in the development of The Lord of the Rings, Arwen's part in it is so far out of the mainstream that Tolkien wrote a separate story for her, A Part of the Tale of Aragorn and Arwen, usually found in Appendix A of The Return of the King. That tale concludes the entire narration.
"Arwen" is an Elvish name meaning "royal maiden" (it's also a Breton or Welsh word for a muse), and "Undomiel" translates "Evenstar".
Gandalf's horse. Shadowfax does not talk, count, or drag people away from fires with his teeth, but when Gandalf needs to get somewhere fast, Shadowfax goes, and when Gandalf needs him, Shadowfax knows. He also stands still when asked. Truly he is a wonder-horse. (And he has charisma.)
Many is the pun that has been played on Shadowfax's great speed and the near-instantaneous transfer achieved by facsimile transmission, but his name is actually made up of modernised Old English words meaning "shadow-mane".
An unwilling and nasty double-act, these two Orc-captains circle each other warily as they vie for control of two captive Hobbits. Grishnakh is an agent of Sauron in Mordor. Ugluk of the Uruk-Hai hails from the nearer power at Isengard. Warily-circling Orcs are much like warily-circling sharks without the grace and discretion. Both captains are strong, ruthless and cunning. Ugluk has his own followers at his back, but this is not likely to daunt Grishnakh, who has never relied much on being liked. A great deal hangs on which one wins the coveted brace of Halflings, not least for the Halflings.
Names: Probably better not to ask.
The overworked landlord of The Prancing Pony inn at Bree, the scene of a number of simultaneous and major turning-points in the plot. Barliman's main contribution to the action is forgetting to pass on the right message at the right moment, but he's an honest hardworking publican, serves good beer and recompenses the Hobbits when their ponies are stolen from his stables. No-one minds when he turns a profit on the deal in the end.
"Barliman" is English barley + man "and so fit for an innkeeper". "Butterbur" is a fleshy wild plant. Many Breelanders have plant-names.
In the sub-montaigne forests between Rohan and Gondor dwells a little-known race of primaeval people. Readers interested in Stone Age archaeology may suspect that they are related to the Venus of Willendorf. Be that as it may, they know the only route through the hills not currently watched by the enemy. Ghan-buri-Ghan is their chief, and without his help the army of Rohan will not reach Gondor in time to help the besieged city.
The meaning of Ghan's name is given somewhere, but where?
Once a trusted and wise councillor to the King of Rohan, Grima is not so well trusted by the king's nearest kin now as he once was. He seems to have a fund of tales to tell, all of them critical and discouraging. The king's kin are not to be trusted, he says; but wizards are the worst of all. The people over the river are very strong, he says; and what trust is there in Gondor now? He seems to communicate a good deal with Saruman at Isengard, as well.
"Wormtongue" is almost self-explanatory if you remember that in Old English days a "worm" meant a snake or dragon. "Galmod" means "a mind fit for the gallows" and "grima" may mean simply "grim".
It would be stretching a point to call Bill a major character, but he does carry the baggage all the way from Bree to Eregion, so he deserves a mention. Bill has a well-developed sense of self-preservation.
Bill was named after his former owner Bill Ferny in Bree.
Even mentioning Shelob verges on being a plot spoiler.
Even naming ******** is a potential plot spoiler.
Gimli's father. One of the original dwarves who went to fight the dragon in The Hobbit, Gloin is older now and wondering what has become of his friend Balin, who left to seek the ancient dwarf-homes in Khazad-dum some years ago.
The name is Old Norse but the meaning is not known.
A Noldorin Elf from Rivendell, Glorfindel meets Aragorn and the Hobbits on the road and helps them through the last and most dangerous leg of their journey to Rivendell. Something to look forward to when the rocks, the damp and the discomfort are really getting to you. Glorfindel is tall, fair and handsome, but his most visible asset, under the circumstances, is an extremely fast horse.
"Glorfindel" translates "golden [curling?] hair".
Glorfindel's extremely fast horse. On stage briefly, he helps Frodo escape from the Ringwraiths. Played in Rob Inglis's notable one-man dramatisation of The Lord of the Rings by a chair on top of a table.
Name: possibly "flower of steeds", cf. Sanskrit asva- , a horse and Sindarin loth, a flower. (If so, this is the only example of Tolkien deriving a word for "horse" from Sanskrit asva rather than the western Germanic ros/hors (cf. Quenya rokko, Sindarin roch). It may be construed as a more archaic word, hence "steed".)
Footnote: Glorfindel's address to his steed in Flight to the Ford ("Noro lim, noro lim, Asfaloth!") comprises a form of a verb "nornoro-" meaning "run on, run smoothly" (BoLT Vol 1, page 263) and an adjective or adverb "lim" meaning "swift" or "swiftly". The form NORO in the name list in BoLT 1 is the root, whose meaning to derived words is sometimes oblique. (The root NYE(NE), for instance, means "bleat", giving rise to the words "Nienna" (one of the Valar, "she who laments") and "nyeeni", "a female goat". Do not confuse these meanings if you wish to retain the favour of the gods.
"Noro" in "Noro lim" is the imperative of the verb. It does not mean "ride on" unless you assume that Glorfindel is giving a riding lesson and is addressing the horse while pretending to address the rider. (The rider's name is not Asfaloth. "Ride on" is what Glorfindel said to Frodo, who, like riding students everywhere, appeared not to hear and did something different.) Glordindel probably gives riding lessons in his spare time, and the verb encompasses the meanings "ride, run" and even "roll". Out of respect to the horse, and given the circumstances, we can render "Noro lim!" shouted urgently as "Run!" or "Flee!". (Or, as Tolkien characters often say, "Fly!") Happily, the horse did not interpret the command as "Roll!".
The Prince of Dol Amroth, a principality of Gondor upon its southern coast. Imrahil is the most "knightly" vassal of Gondor and makes himself useful in the defence of Minas Tirith. He's of the tall, dark-haired and grey-eyed persuasion, and he's probably another very distant relation of Aragorn's.
Meaning not known.
A guardsman of the Citadel of Minas Tirith who befriends Pippin when the young Hobbit impulsively volunteers his allegiance to Denethor. Beregond's nine-year-old son, Bergil, is one of the few youngsters remaining in the besieged city, and runs errands for the Houses of Healing.
Beregond may mean "protecting stone".
The third of the Istari (wizards) who appears (albeit briefly) in The Lord of the Rings, Radagast's special talent is for communicating with birds. "Radagast" is an old Germanic name - Gothic? - meaning roughly "wise or well advised spirit, guest or stranger".
Arwen's elder brothers, the twin sons of Elrond. They appear in the latter half of the story, not, as you might think, to keep an eye on Aragorn, but to assist him in the defence of Minas Tirith.
These are Elvish names meaning respectively "elf-Numenorean" and "elf-horse-lord". Their uncle Elros was the first king of Numenor some 6500 years ago, so they are remote but quite direct cousins of Aragorn.
The captain and door-warden of Theoden's court at Meduseld. Háma has to make some fast and independent decisions when three weatherworn and heavily armed travellers turn up at his gate and require entrance. Fortunately the Rohirrim are people with an independent streak.
"Háma" may be derived from the Old English name for a village or homestead.
A senior member of the Dúnedain of the North, Halbarad leads a small troop of picked men from the north to help Aragorn in the defence of Gondor. Inevitably, Halbarad is probably a not very distant cousin of Aragorn's.
Halbarad may mean "tall tower".
A Noldorin Elf who encounters Frodo and his travelling companions on the first leg of their journey. He gives them supper and almost frightens the wits out of them by dropping not very subtle hints about the danger they are in. He also engages in a short bout of aphorism-swapping with Frodo, viz:
... Do not meddle in the affairs of wizards, for they are subtle
and quick to anger. The choice is yours, to go or wait.
It is also said: 'Go not to the Elves for counsel, for they
will say both no and yes'.
This impresses Gildor so much that he starts giving advice and they can hardly stop him. Then he tells them advice is dangerous. This is what happens when you talk to Elves.
"Gildor" possibly means "star-country"; "Inglorion" probably means "son of Inglor".
A cousin of Bilbo's by marriage, Lobelia is a wealthy and ambitious silver spoon thief who longs to get her hands on Bilbo's well-appointed home at Bag End. By the end of the tale she no longer cares about such things, but she has proven where the best of her spirit lies.
"Lobelia" is a small blue flower (or a tall, spiky tree-like plant if you live on a mountain in tropical Africa). Many Hobbit-women had flower names. "Sackville" is an aristocratic English name best known in the compound "Sackville-West". Recent investigations reveal that the name also means "a quarrel over a dwelling place". The pun on "bag" no doubt also appealed to Tolkien.
Sam's ancient father. Remembered mostly for his commitment to growing potatoes, which, as readers never tire of pointing out, shouldn't have been invented yet at the time of The Lord of the Rings. The Gaffer is clearly a tenacious character.
"Gaffer" is a common English colloquial word for a old man, probably a contraction of "grandfather". "Hamfast" is made of Old English elements meaning "stuck-at-home".
Mushroom-farmer Maggot and his wife give Frodo and his companions food and shelter on the first leg of their journey. Stalwart salt of the earth Hobbit-type, with big dogs and a large family.
"Maggot" here probably does not mean "small carnivorous larva", but a friend has pointed out that small maggots are frequent inhabitants of wild field mushrooms, and they enjoy eating them too, so there may be a connection.
Suddenly appears at the end of the story and has a word or two to say to Sam. Their first daughter, Elanor, is born the following year.
"Rose" is a flower by any name. Tolkien derives "Cotton" from "Cotman", meaning someone who lives in a cottage.
A young friend of Frodo's who helps him move house and has a serious near-miss with the Nazgul. Both Fredegar and Bolger are genuine Dark Age names, but we might suspect that here "Bolger" is meant to suggest "Bulge-er". Fatty is however surprisingly nimble on his feet.
Tom Bombadil's pony. Has a strong sense of direction.
Name: Self-explanatory. Like his namesake above (no relation), he's surprisingly quick on his feet.
A ne'er-do-well Man living in Bree who does his best to cause trouble, but just ends up introducing Sam to Bill the Pony.
Bill, like many Breelanders, has a plant-name for a surname.
An assistant to the herb-master of the Houses of Healing of Minas Tirith, Ioreth rarely stops talking, but she is one of those "old wives who keep in memory things that once were needful for the Wise to know".
Name: Queya yara/Sindarin iaur 'old' plus a feminine ending. (See reference page 860, The Lord of the Rings, A Reader's Companion by Hammond and Scull (2005).)
The nameless and mysterious Man who serves Sauron as his Herald and Ambassador. His main talent is snarling. Just the sort of person you don't want to meet at embassy parties. Don't be too surprised if he is a distant cousin of Aragorn's (but we are not told).
The Mouth of Sauron has forgotten his own name.
Two fairly senior Orcs in Mordor who get involved in the war in a way they didn't expect.
Meanings best not asked, but probably not what they look like in English.
The chieftain of the local eagles, Gwaihir and some of his colleagues airlift various people out of trouble on a couple of occasions. The reasons why the eagles do not provide on-call air transport have been widely discussed and won't be raised here.
"Gwaihir" translates "wind(s)-lord".
Elrond Halfelven's father, Earendil, is not able to attend the story in person, but appears frequently as the Evening Star, which is him, his ship and a Silmaril.
Earendil, son of the valiant and beautiful Idril Celebrindal, Elven-King's daughter of Gondolin, and Tuor, a tall blonde Mannish hero, fled the city around 6,000 years ago, met his true love aged seven (both of them), married at 35 (right after his parents left home), went to sea almost the moment his wife became pregnant (he had a good reason, of course. He was trying to save the world), never met his children, and eventually carried the message from Men and Elven-kind from Middle-earth to Valinor. His wife, the lovely Elwing (Luthien's grand-daughter) got her own back by volunteering them both to stay with the Elves thereafter. The Valar found him a job as a star. Now when he goes sailing she can keep an eye on him.
Elrond and his twin brother Elros lost touch with their mother at the age
of four when she turned into a seagull, and were brought up by the person
who (arguably) tried to kill her. This may be one reason for Elrond's unusually
generous attitude to other people.
The young Earendil once bit someone who richly deserved it. If you want to know about Silmarils, you will have to read The Silmarillion.
Earendil means "sea-lover" or "sea-friend" in Elvish, but derives ultimately from an Old English and Norse star-name. This is one of the root legends of Tolkien's mythologies, as you can read in JRR Tolkien: A Biography by Humphrey Carpenter.
Lúthien has been dead for a bit over 6,000 years, but songs are still sung of her meeting with the fugitive Man, Beren (subsequently, of course, a fairly distant cousin of Aragorn's), in the woods of Doriath, their great love and their combat with the Great Enemy (the previous one, not the current one) in his halls of iron. Lúthien is the remote ancestress of the kings of the Numenoreans and the Dúnedain, and a nearer ancestress of the Halfelven. The tale of Beren and Lúthien is among the most illustrated and dramatised of all the episodes in Tolkien's works among his readers. It was personal to him, and he named himself and his wife Beren and Lúthien on their gravestone.
"Tinúviel" is an Elvish name meaning "nightingale", and was given to Lúthien by Beren. Tolkien appears to have derived "Lúthien" from a place-name "Luthany", apparently invented by poet Francis Thompson to describe the land of England.
The chief Queen among the Valar, the powers that shaped the world known as Arda (Earth). The Elves of Middle-earth praise her and call upon her in particular in times of trouble. She is said by the High Elves to live upon the mountain Oiolosse (Taniquetil or Ever-white) in the Undying Lands beyond the world in the far West, and they should know, as some of them have met her.
Elbereth is an Elvish name translating "star-queen" directly. "Gilthoniel" means "star-kindler"; "Varda" means "lofty" (as in important, not tall), and "Fanuilos" means something like "white-spirit-form".
Bright blue his jacket is, and his boots are yellow. Some believe that Tom's main purpose is to hold up the narrative just long enough to weed out uncommitted readers. Adapters always leave him out of their dramatisations. He seems to have waded in from another story entirely. Don't be fooled. Tom has a few things to say, and wasn't it Tom that found Merry his short sword with the significant runes on it? Tolkien never wrote a multi-layered text-based computer adventure (personal computers did not exist in his time), but he knew a plot twist when he saw one. Tom's lovely wife Goldberry grew up in a river and still wears fish-skin shoes.
The meaning of "Bombadil" is unexplained. "Goldberry" may be from a poetic Middle English name "Goldborow", meaning, presumably, golden city. On the other hand, it may mean a small sweet yellow Arctic fruit used to make jam in Scandinavia.
The Lord of the Rings has a cast of thousands. Only a few hundred are actually named. Add your own favourites. The missing Entwives. Smeagol's grandmother. Bergil's uncle Iorlas (who is older than Pippin). Snaga. Shelob's many husbands. The dwarf-women (wherever they are). Narvi and Celebrimbor. Cirdan the Shipwright (why the beard?). Old Man Willow. The Huorns (who look like Ents but ain't). The Barrow Wight. Mablung and Damrod. The Oliphaunt. Stewed rabbits. Mr. Proudfoot (with both foots on the table). The Wargs. Nob and Bob. The White Tree. The Watcher in the Lake. Earendil the Mariner. Elanor the Fair (aged 2). Mount Doom (Mount Doom is innocent, OK?). Lesser men with spades...
The dramatis personae of The Lord of the Rings embraces many races of people in the lands of Middle-earth. There are the indigenous races: Men (in the old sense of "humans"), Elves, Hobbits and Orcs are all somewhat related to each other, although Elves live indefinitely and Hobbits are a bit on the short side. Orcs are a mystery but, however they got that way, they are bad. Orcs don't like other people and enjoy damaging them. Naturally the Dark Lord uses them as his shock troops.
There is a separate human-like species in Middle-earth, known as Dwarves. (Tolkien said that he called them Dwarves to distinguish them from Dwarfs, whom he regarded as the comedy variety.) Dwarves have a different origin from Men, Elves and Hobbits, but not so very different. They are people too. Their main interests are mining and stonemasonry, and their most precious possessions are their beards.
Most of the Elves in The Lord of the Rings are Noldor, or High Elves, who are old, wise and fair ("fair" meaning good looking rather than even-handed. Some of them are that, too). A few (such as Legolas and Celeborn) are Sindar (Grey Elves), close relations of the High Elves but (on the evidence of The Lord of the Rings) marginally shorter in stature and temper. A handful of others are Wood or Sylvan ("wood") Elves, a less cultivated race but also old and fair and, as Tolkien says in The Hobbit, "good people". Elves are famous for their wisdom and their singing. And getting into fights, by the look of it.
The Men are multiplying like Orcs in the mountains. The important Mannish races in The Lord of the Rings are the Dúnedain of the North, descendants of the ancient Numenoreans whose local kingdom has disintegrated; the Dúnedain of the South (Gondorians), a related, advanced civilisation of city-builders and their outlying fiefs; the Rohirrim, a race of tall, fair-haired pastoral horse-breeders who speak (for the purposes of The Lord of the Rings) Anglo-Saxon; the Men of Bree, local countrymen from Bree near The Shire; the Haradrim, an elephant-riding race from the far South who are duped by Sauron into attacking Gondor; various tribes from the eastern continental interior who also join Sauron's forces; the Pukel-Men or Druedain, people of a very ancient stone-age culture who help the Rohirrim; the Dunlendings, a tribal race living west of Rohan who attack the Rohirrim egged on by misinformation; and other races such as the Woodmen (living in Eryn Lasgalen to the North), the Lake-Men (their trading neighbours) and the Beornings (who are part-bear) who are spoken of but never encountered in The Lord of the Rings. And probably one or two others in passing.
In The Lord of the Rings the Dwarves are in effect one people, though based in a number of different places, such as Erebor, Dale and the Iron Hills. They would like to be based in Khazad-dûm, too, but the omens are not good.
Likewise, the Hobbits, though they have several tribal ancestors, are all one people and nearly all live in The Shire, a temperate agricultural area west of the Misty Mountains. Some live just beyond the Borders in Bree, alongside the local Men. They have no absolute leader, and regard themselves as the subjects of the King, although there has not been a King in the lands for a very long time.
The Ents, as we said, look like trees and live in deep forests. Somewhere along the way they lost the entire female half of their species, so they are gradually declining in numbers.
The Orcs are the Bad People. Tolkien eventually decided that they were humans, although he once suspected them of being the descendants of tortured Elves. They like breaking things up, including other people. They are nearly everything you don't want to meet, apart from Trolls, Ringwraiths, the Balrog, Sauron, etc.
Trolls are traditionally large, dangerous, stupid and turn into stone in sunlight. We only meet a couple of trolls in The Lord of the Rings, but they are large, dangerous, not entirely stupid, and immune to sunlight. Treebeard describes them as "a mockery" devised by the Dark Lord out of people he shouldn't have been tampering with. Barrow-wights are not the ghosts of the original owners of the barrows. They appear to be spiteful spirits that creep into the tombs of ancient peoples to trap unwary travellers.
Ringwraiths are so nearly disembodied by their (once) voluntary enserfment to Sauron that they are almost invisible, and a terrible danger to the body and spirit of others. Originally Men, they are based in Mordor, and get around on various steeds. Everyone is frightened of the Ringwraiths, including their own followers.
The Balrog is even more dangerous than the Ringwraiths. His only good point is that there are fewer of him. He has every appearance of being an outworldly spirit of demonic origin, who can burst into flames at will. Even Gandalf looks tired when the Balrog is mentioned.
And last but by no means least there are the Valar, the race of ancient spirits who shaped the World under the care of the One. How and to what extent they intervene to assist the people of Middle-earth is a moot point, but the Elves call upon the Queen of the Valar, Elbereth, in times of trouble. Sauron and the Balrog are also of this race, but have gone to the bad.
The places of Middle-earth are as much a part of the story as the people, but whereas the varied peoples of Tolkien's creation may seem unfamiliar at first, the landscapes are the landscapes of our own World, and enter the memory as if they had been known before and never entirely forgotten.
Wood, moor and mountain unfold around the travellers with a life (sometimes literally) of their own. There are some notable stopovers, but it is the constant presence of the living world that stays in the mind. The people and the events of the story are embedded so firmly in the landscapes that there is nothing to be gained by saying that there is an inn called this or a city called that or a woodland with a beautiful and elastic name that grows depending on the patience of the person saying it.
They are on the map. Grab your inner equivalent of good walking boots and a sustaining packed lunch, and as Glorfindel says, Noro! Noro! - go! go! ...