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Letter 211

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The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien
Letter 211
RecipientRhona Beare
DateOctober 14, 1958
Subject(s)Languages, Gondor, Númenor

Letter 211 is a letter written by J.R.R. Tolkien and published in The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien.


Covering more than six pages, Tolkien replies to several questions asked by Rhona Beare. A draft of this letter was included as Letter 212.

  • Sam chants O Elbereth Gilthoniel in "The Choices of Master Samwise", whilst the rest of the book uses A Elbereth Gilthoniel. Tolkien admits that it is an error on his part, but can be explained as Sam's mistake, as he did not know Sindarin.
  • Miss Beare enquires about the meaning of A Elbereth Gilthoniel and the other phrase, Aiya Eärendil Elenion Ancalima. Tolkien translates both phrases.
  • Despite the earlier enquiries, this is only dubbed "Question 1", and involves Glorfindel's horse, Asfaloth. He was said to have a "bridle and bit", while later in the book, it is mentioned Elves ride without saddle, bridle and bit. Tolkien admits it is an error, as the chapter was one of the earliest written. He promises to correct "bridle and bit" to "headstall" in later editions.
  • Question 2 concerns the One Ring. If Sauron had the Ring, how could Ar-Pharazôn have defeated him? Tolkien explains most of it would be mentioned in the unpublished Downfall of Númenor, and cannot yet fully answer it. However, he does tell her that the Ring of Power feeds the potency and potentiality of a ruler. Without subjects, there is nothing to rule. Ar-Pharazôn had no knowledge of the Ring, so once he had subjects, Sauron's power increased again.
  • Question 3 concerns the two wizards of the order that had not been mentioned yet. Tolkien gives a vague answer that he knows little about them.
  • Question 4 is about the clothing of Middle-earth, and especially the crown of Gondor. Beare wanted to know whether it was like a classic Gaulish or Viking helmet as portrayed in popular culture. Tolkien instead likens it to the Egyptian pharaohs. Like the Númenorean realms, its North Kingdom had a diadem of Kingship, and its South Kingdom a loft crown.
  • Still as part of Question 4, Miss Beare asks what the difference is between El "Elf" and El "Star", and whether inhabitants of Middle-earth would know the difference. Tolkien replies that the two words come from the same root, but that outside of personal names, the difference is distinct as both are shortened forms.
  • Also as part of Question 4, Tolkien gives the translation of Legolas as "Green foliage".
  • Miss Beare asked about the winged steed of the Witch-king, and whether it was like a pterodactyl. Tolkien replies that it wasn't, but that it may have been a survivor of older geological eras.
  • Question 5 concerns the mention of the "Elder King"; was he the One? Tolkien tells her that it was a nickname of Manwë, and most Valar were addressed by such nicknames. Eru himself did not inhabit any part of Eä.

Tolkien ends the letter that he intended to write a mythical story, not some sort of new religion or vision. He had based Middle-earth on the mythical concepts Middan-geard and oikoumenē, that is, world in which Men live as opposed to higher powers. Theologically, it is more a collection of various concepts than an outright allegory of anything.