I don’t remember where or when I first heard that I was banned from participating in Tolkien trivia contests at conventions. This has been a running joke for decades, now, but it was going strong when I handed the Tolkien fan programming track at Dragon*Con over to Jincey from TheOneRing.net. She sent me an email one evening with an odd request. “I need expert-level trivia questions that even you cannot answer,” she pleaded.
For my part I have always felt there were questions I cannot answer. I just cannot think of them when people ask me for examples, but it’s hard to perform under pressure when you’re supposed to sift through millions (thousands?) of questions.
Every question that popped into my mind that night was one I could easily answer. It finally occurred to me that my books had the answer to my dilemma. Normally when I answer fan questions about Middle-earth I thumb through the books to jog my memory. There have been occasions when I spent hours looking for one single, obscure passage. When a reporter for Wired magazine interviewed me I was typing an email in response to a question as he entered my home office.
“Do you mind my asking what you’re typing?” he said. “I’m answering a fan question about lions in Middle-earth,” I replied. He was intrigued enough to include that in his article. It’s not easy to sit with a book and a laptop computer in hand and deal with all of life’s intrusions while seeking the one reference to a thing.
But this was why Jincey asked me for hard questions. Clearly since I was doing the research I was (once again) ineligible to participate in the trivia contest. She needed a set of PART B questions because, knowing how Tolkien fandom obsesses over the tiniest of details (apparently the Tolkien Society is currently wrapped in the throes of debating whether Gandalf and Saruman had a fight or an exchange of clever whitticisms this month) Part A was going to be too easy for most fans.
Everyone does their research, so how do you find questions you cannot answer? The solution, I realized, is in the books one uses for research. I often noticed how certain sections of my books seem less dog-eared than others. I was not thumbing through those pages as often as I was thumbing through others. What led to such differential treatment? After all, by 2002 I had read The Lord of the Rings over 300 times in search of answers to innumerable questions I have long since forgotten. I have exhausted entire libraries of copies of Tolkien’s works. They don’t last long in my experience.
So I grabbed a copy of The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien and flipped it open to a less dirtied section. The pages still felt crisp. And there I saw before me the first question for which I would not have known the answer had you asked me.
Months later I decided to sit in on one of Jincey’s trivia sessions. There were a few people in the room but this was, as any programming track director knows, one of those light sessions one schedules against the more popular sessions that are sure to draw your hardcore audience away. So this trivia contest was dominated by one gallant young lad who was answering the questions from PART A almost before Jincey could finish speaking them. I think she even politely asked him to wait before answering just so the other people would have a chance to provide some answers.
“Come on!” he said confidently. “Ask me some hard questions.”
“You don’t want me to do that,” Jincey replied with greater confidence and authority. But of course you know how this proceeds. He insisted. So Jincey flipped the pages to PLAN B and asked him the very first question:
“Who was Terence Tiller?”
I know the answer to that question now because that once-confident fellow’s expression caused me to almost roll on the floor in fits of laughter. He was expecting, I dunno, maybe to be asked the name of some hobbit chieftain from six generations back or something. No one expects to be asked about Terence Tiller.
If you don’t know who he was, now you have a reason to look at your copy of Letters again.
On behalf of the gallant fans everywhere I asked Jincey to spare the brave lad and ask him another question. So she went to question 2, which near as I can recall was about a river located close to the edge of a forest …
There are things buried in these books that almost never know the light of day. They are details beyond the details that we glorify. They are the stuff of trivia contest legends. And I will list a few of these kinds of questions below for you. I was inspired to write this article because of the recent Silmarillion trivia article that was shared on the Tolkien Society Facebook page. I got about 6 questions into that quiz before I gave up. You just cannot correctly answer a quiz when the only provided answers are all wrong. Perhaps this is why I am forever banned from participating in Tolkien trivia contests, but while everyone else was proudly clicking on “The Ainur sang the universe into existence” I was looking for the “Iluvatar made it” choice, which wasn’t there.
Of course, every good Tolkien fan knows that the Ainur sang the universe into existence. Alas! Tolkien didn’t write it that way.
So these are what I think are hard questions. Some of you may know these things off the top of your heads. Well, some of them. People occasionally remind me of things I have forgotten or overlooked so I know none of us is perfect. But I can still name the river that Gandalf, Aragorn, Gimli, and Legolas crossed when they rode south from Fangorn Forest. Can you?
In any event, I name this Tolkien Trivia Quiz in honor of Terence Tiller, who taught me there are still new things to discover in Middle-earth. I will publish the answers here on the Tolkien Society Blog in a few days. And don’t bother checking my blog for the answers. I have never written about most of these topics. You’ll have to check your Tolkien sources.
- Whose weapon had a pommel shaped like a hideous head?
- How many miles did Merry and Pippin wander into Fangorn on their own before meeting Treebeard?
- Who said that no foe had ever taken the Hornburg?
- How long did the Ents allow the Isen to flow into Isengard to flood Saruman’s underground chambers?
GandalfDwarves entered Hobbiton on a waggon before the Party, what was hanging beside the hobbits’ doors?
- How did Frodo, Sam, and Pippin cross the Water when leaving Hobbiton?
- What were Frodo’s beds stuffed with?
- What was the name of the valley between Hobbiton and Bywater?
- Where did Frodo, Sam, and Pippin eat their second dinner after leaving Hobbiton?
- What surprise gift did Gildor’s people give to Frodo, Sam, and Pippin?
- How far was it from Farmer Maggot’s lane to the Buckleberry Ferry?
- How many lights did Tom and Goldberry leave burning after their first dinner with the hobbits?
- On what day of the week did Bilbo escape from Gollum and rejoin Thorin and Company?
- Which Dwarf realized first that Thorin was no longer with them in Mirkwood?
- What child read the manuscript of The Hobbit before it was given to Stanley Unwin?
- At what age does J.R.R. Tolkien say his son John first heard the story of The Hobbit?
- What was Gadara View?
- What was the greatest treasure of Belegost?
- What was the only Elvish name to be used in the primary narratives of The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, The Silmarillion, and The Children of Hurin?
- How many times is the name “Elbereth” used in The Lord of the Rings?
Well, there you have twenty questions, some more challenging than others. It’s not easy, when you have read the books so many times, to find things you don’t know by heart. I consider the last question a semi-cheat. I was tired of looking for interesting obscurities. Still, we’re not talking about dozens or hundreds of uses.
And may Terence Tiller be forever remembered for both his contributions to Tolkien lore, trivia contests and … whatever else he did. You should read up on that if you don’t know.
And, one more thing. If you really like this quiz, do please share it everywhere. Challenge your friends.
Michael Martinez is a graduate of Kennesaw State University and author of Parma Endorion: Essays on Middle-earth, Visualizing Middle-earth, Understanding Middle-earth: Essays on J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle-earth, and Mindfaring through Middle-earth.