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Talk:Mistakes and inconsistencies in Tolkien's works

Revision as of 02:08, 19 August 2013 by Hyarion (Talk | contribs)

Well, some of this borders fanwank. Also, I'm pretty sure Tolkien talked about most of it in Letters (the Ring of Thror comes to mind).

On another note: This page needs structure. Maybe a grouping of errors? "Character errors", "Scientific errors", "plot errors", or somesuch? -- Ederchil (Talk/Contribs/Edits) 20:52, 15 June 2009 (UTC)

They are too few for now to be categorized. Sage 13:24, 16 June 2009 (UTC)
  • Character mistakes:
    • Mouth of Sauron
    • Gimli's Axe
    • Possession of the Nine Rings
    • Knowledge of the Palantír
  • "Scientific"
    • Distances
    • Moon phases
  • Plot errors
    • Doors of Durin
    • Eagles
    • Shadow over Eregion
    • Beater and Biter
Looks good enough to me. -- Ederchil (Talk/Contribs/Edits) 11:57, 17 June 2009 (UTC)
It does looks good but I still think it's too few/too early to think of definite categories. For example the Scientific errors could be under Plot errors, while Thror's Ring under Character. But anyway, that doesn't mean that I object to sectionization, only that it's not that useful yet. Sage 23:43, 17 June 2009 (UTC)
I'd like to add a few more errors in the next week or two. Some can be explained as pure character errors, such as Pippin's comment to Théoden that Rohan is the first country he's come to where people have heard any tale about hobbits, when Fangorn is the only inhabited country they've visited where people haven't heard of hobbits.
Others are of the type, "If they could do A, why didn't they do B?" The best one may be—when Galadriel says she knows Sauron's mind concerning the elves, why doesn't she offer Frodo and Sam any information? Why don't they ask for any? Why didn't she know about Saruman's betrayal, which I would think concerns the elves, or if she knew, why didn't she warn Gandalf? (He says at the Council of Elrond that he'd gotten messages from Lórien after reading the scroll of Isildur.) This could be a separate type from the other plot errors, or a subtype of them. Spearwielder 03:31, 18 June 2009 (UTC)
It definitely needs some order now. (Interesting, I never thought of most of these). -- Ederchil (Talk/Contribs/Edits) 07:56, 24 June 2009 (UTC)
Since I've been enjoying articles here, I'm glad you found my suggestions interesting. I hope to add two or three more soon. By the way, I think the Vale of Anduin, described as green, should actually be desert, as it's in the rain shadow of the Misty and White Mountains. But it would be nice to find an expert source on that. Spearwielder 04:57, 25 June 2009 (UTC)


The palantíri

I think the explanation given is rather far-fetched. What Gandalf says is, "No word of it did he [Saruman] speak to any of the Council [not "at any Council meeting"]. It was not known to us that any of the palantíri had escaped the ruin of Gondor." So he's talking about the members of the Council, including him, not what happened at Council meetings.

Also, he says in "The Pyre of Denethor", "Though the Stewards deemed that it was a secret kept only by themselves, long have I known that here in the White Tower, as at Orthanc, one of the Seven Stones was preserved." This implies, but doesn't quite prove, that more than one Steward was mistaken about the secrecy—otherwise it would be much more natural to say, "Though Denethor deemed..."

Gandalf also says in "The Palantír", "Who knows where all those other Stones now lie, broken, or buried, or drowned deep?" If he knows, that might not be a lie exactly, but it's serious suppressio veri and suggestio falsi.

It seems to me that the most likely explanation is that Tolkien made a mistake. If not, the most likely is that Gandalf is lying to Pippin to protect the secret, which is more Denethor's than his. Another possibility is that he's suffering a brief recurrence of the post-resurrection memory problem that he had when he met Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli. Spearwielder 03:52, 18 June 2009 (UTC)

He does speak about the members of the Council including himself, but also refers to the past. His phrase doesn't exclude that sometime later he gained some personal knowledge. What if he talked about the Ring? They eventually all found out that Bilbo had the Ring but referring to the past Gandalf would say something like "It was now known to us that Bilbo had the Ring". It's not bad grammar at all and doesn't contradict the facts.
Second, as for the fate of the Palantiri, it is not a lie, since he speaks about "all" of them. Yes he (perhaps) knows that 4 of them were in Emyn Beraid, Orthanc, Barad-dur and Denethor's tower, but what about "all" of them? Nobody knows.
Finally, yes, Tolkien perhaps made some mistakes, but this is not the explanation of the inconsistency, but the reason of the inconsistency. Explanations are to find out how mistakes can make an inconsistency and whether they can be explained internally. Sage 09:24, 18 June 2009 (UTC)
I won't argue with you any more. However, I'll point out that the article now reads, "as the Nazgûl are Sauron's slaves, his owning the Rings may be equivalent to the Nazgûl keeping them." Here "his owning" (possessive) isn't parallel to "the Nazgûl keeping" (not possessive). It should be either "him owning" or "the Nazgûl's keeping". As you're the veteran here, I'll let you pick. Spearwielder 03:11, 23 June 2009 (UTC)

Corrected error?

In my 1971 Ballantine edition, there are almost identical entries in Appendix B for 1455 and 1462, both saying that Sam was re-elected mayor and that at his request, the Thain made Fastred and Elanor Wardens of the Westmarch, where their descendants dwelled for many generations. It has Sam elected for the fifth time in 1455 and the sixth in 1462, which seems right, but I doubt Pippin gave Fastred and Elanor this title twice. Was this corrected in later editions? Spearwielder 00:41, 30 June 2009 (UTC)

It's apparently a very complicated matter, as noted in RC721-2.
In the first edition, the "Warden-making" takes place in 1462. When Tolkien wanted to change something (deleting a line that was between brackets), the second (Ballantne) edition accidentally merged 1455 and 1462, ignoring the sixth term statement. A&U's second edition also ran with this error. In the fourth or fifth printing, Ballantine tried to correct things, which led to the duplication you have. In 1987, Houghton Mifflin "corrected" it once again, by changing the entry for 1462 into the short "sixth term" statement (which both my pre-2004 editions have). Hammond and Scull changed it back to Tolkien's original intent in the 2004 50th Anniversary edition. -- Ederchil (Talk/Contribs/Edits) 08:03, 30 June 2009 (UTC)
Thanks, very interesting. If people would find the contradictory statements only in pre-1987 editions, I guess there's little point in mentioning it in an article. Spearwielder 22:28, 30 June 2009 (UTC)
It can go under Corrected Mistakes. The Reader's Companion lists many of these printing errors. Maybe there can be a subcsection for them? -- Ederchil (Talk/Contribs/Edits) 22:39, 30 June 2009 (UTC)
Or a separate article? To me, Tolkien's (apparent) mistakes are in a different category from publishers' mistakes. Putting all the latter together could be an interesting article. Spearwielder 13:47, 2 July 2009 (UTC)
Well, a lot of mistakes in the Tale of Years were there before the publisher came in: Tolkien himself made several errors between the Tale of Years, the Genealogies and the narrative. -- Ederchil (Talk/Contribs/Edits) 13:54, 2 July 2009 (UTC)

Explanation of Gandalf's warning on deep arts

The current explanation mentions the difficulty of defining "magic", but that doesn't seem to me to be the issue. Gandalf's warning is about "the devices of an art deeper than we possess ourselves". I feel sure that Orcrist, Sting, the Barrow-blades, the Phial of Galadriel, and Galadriel's box of earth were produced by arts deeper than Thorin and the hobbits possess—whether they are magical or not. The only question I see is whether they qualify as "devices".

Also, I may not be understanding the comment on Pippin's curiosity correctly, but it seems to me to be based on the assumption that Pippin hasn't looked into the Palantir yet. But he has, and by now Pippin is far from the palantír. If Gandalf is warning Pippin, it's against getting carried away by his curiosity again (and Pippin manages to avoid it). Spearwielder 00:47, 30 June 2009 (UTC)

Gandalf's letter

I have two questions about the edits to the item on Gandalf's letter. Why was it moved to "Plot errors"? The only explanation given now is that Gandalf got confused, which seems to fit perfectly as a "Character error".

Also, why was the reference to the fictitious Tolkien removed? He says in Appendix D that he might have made many errors in regard to calendars.

True, he also says the chronology is set out in the Red Book so carefully that there can't be much doubt. However, taking an in-universe point of view, what would the origin of the Red Book's dating be? As far as I can see, you have to assume the following: Gandalf got confused and wrote the wrong date. Sometime later, he realized the date was wrong, though it's hard to imagine what he could remember later that didn't occur to him at the time. (Could Butterbur have remembered the date of the letter he forgot to deliver?) Gandalf would then have told one of the hobbits, possibly Frodo. The correct date would have gone into some chronology in the Red Book that was one of the sources for the Tale of Years, and Tolkien the translator would have put it there without making a note of the discrepancy.

The other possibility seems much simpler. Tolkien the translator would have had no source for the date in Appendix B other than the date of the letter, and he would have miscalculated, as he says he might have done.

Of course, it's very unlikely that the real Tolkien would have imagined either of these things.

Incidentally, I'm a bit surprised that I couldn't find anything here about the fictitious Tolkien, the "I" of The Hobbit and the Prologue and Appendices of LotR. Maybe that's for the same reason that I'm not writing such an article: I imagine there are interesting scholarly papers on it somewhere, but I'm not going to track them down. One question is: Are we supposed to read the fox's thoughts about the hobbits as written by Frodo? Did he know, or did he whimsically invent it? Or are we supposed to understand that the fictitious Tolkien, the translator, invented it? That leads me to another thing I can't find here, namely, anything on point of view in LotR. Spearwielder 05:13, 18 October 2009 (UTC)

It was me who made those edits. First of all, I'd say that the categories here (character and factual) sometimes overlap since they all mainly have to do with characters, and the characters usually make factual mistakes; so, I will not argue strongly that your entry is totally a factual error and not a character one. The reason why I consider it to be a factual error is because it is a dating error, more or less like the astronomical ones. It is the explanation that Gandalf made a mistake that makes it a character error (perhaps other explanations can be possible). But the error itself is factual.
I wanted to move your reference to the fictitious (or "alternate history") Tolkien to the introductory paragraph, but something occurred (a 500 server error IIRC) and I abandoned it. The reason is that the fictional Tolkien argument can be the explanation for all of the mistakes, not only this one. I thought that an explanation that "solves" all problems mentioned here shouldn't be under the explanation of one problem. Another "Generic" explanation is the fact that the texts are actually diaries, so one could easily argue that the characters and the authors themselves did not remember well the facts, or that 4rth Age cross-referencing by the Gondorian historians was contradicting (eg. the first version of the Hobbit with the non-canon history about the Ring).
However I guess these two explanations are too easy and convenient; that's why people generally prefer to consider all text as absolute truth or "facts", written by an omniscient narrator; if 2 conflicting references are made, we first consider them equally valid and try to find the best explanation between them, before rule out one of them. The "Easy" explanations like "this character said a mistake", "Frodo did not remember well while writing his diary" or "Fictional Tolkien made a transcription error" are last resorts. Or so I am seeing.
Now, it is very interesting this you are reminding us about the fictional Tolkien. As I said above, he is not taken into consideration in most of the Tolkienian discussions, and a possible explanation is what I a saying in the above paragraph. It's true that I don't remember reading about him in many places (except Foster's Guide and this). It would be interesting to have an article about it. Sage 08:54, 18 October 2009 (UTC)
I thought that's what the "Character mistakes" section was for—mistakes that could have been made by the non-omniscient characters.
Good point about not ascribing errors to the fictitious Tolkien and his sources. However, in view of Tolkien's comment that he might have made many errors on the calendar (which I didn't include), I thought it might be worth a mention, but as I think about your comments, I'm not so sure. Spearwielder 04:02, 21 October 2009 (UTC)

Removing "One pony more"

It seems clear to me on the first page of "The Old Forest" that there's a pony for each hobbit and one "to be the baggage carrier", which is the "laden pony" that Merry gets first. So I think this is completely consistent with the five ponies Tom Bombadil recovers, and I deleted that section. Spearwielder 22:01, 11 April 2011 (UTC)

Good catch Spearwielder, nice to see you back! --Hyarion 01:42, 12 April 2011 (UTC)

Murder in the Shire!

Would the following be considered too cheeky to put under Character Mistakes?

When Pippin foresaw fighting half-orcs and ruffians in the Shire itself—to rescue Lotho Pimple, Frodo responded, "But remember: there is to be no slaying of hobbits, not even if they have gone over to the other side…No hobbit has ever killed another on purpose in the Shire, and it is not to begin now."[1]

Frodo’s statement that no Shire-hobbit had ever killed another purposefully is inconsistent with the questionable demise of Lalia Clayhanger. Lalia the Great (or more rudely the fat) was the "matriarch" of the Tooks and the Great Smials for 22 years. Her son, Ferumbras, had no wife because allegedly he could find no one willing to live in the Great Smials under Lalia’s rule. In her last and fattest years it had been her custom to be wheeled to the Great Door to take the air on fine mornings. In the spring of S.R. 1402 her clumsy attendant let the heavy chair run over the threshold and tipped Lalia down the flight of steps into the garden, which killed her.[2]


It is possible that Frodo never heard this story although that is highly unlikely since wide rumour had it that the attendant was Pearl, who was Pippin's sister! It is also possible that Frodo did not wish to discomfit Pippin who was standing right there when Frodo made his statement. However, the most likely explanation is that Frodo did not mention the Lalia incident because he wanted to keep his message short and clear, that hobbits should stick to their highest ideals and not harm one another.
Of course the simplest explanation is that there was no inconsistency because there was no murder—it was just an "accident". The fact that after a decent interval Pearl appeared in a splendid necklace of her name-jewels that had long lain in the hoard of the Thains was merely a coincidence…really! [2]


  1. J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, The Return of the King, "The Scouring of the Shire"
  2. 2.0 2.1 J.R.R. Tolkien; Humphrey Carpenter, Christopher Tolkien (eds.), The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, Letter 214, (undated, written late 1958 or early 1959)

Gamling 01:37, 12 April 2011 (UTC)


What was the problem (or what were the problems) with my edits? Spearwielder 00:39, 18 August 2013 (UTC)

Hi Spearwielder, I agreed with Ederchil's revert because it seemed to decrease the quality of the article...then I realized I was comparing the changes in the wrong order, and your version contained several improvements. Maybe Ederchil caught something I missed? --Hyarion 02:09, 18 August 2013 (UTC)
Primarily a sources issue, and some incorrectly removed stuff with a quote. It was a janitorial revert. --Ederchil (Talk/Contribs/Edits) 09:59, 18 August 2013 (UTC)
Hi, Hyarion, and I'm glad you agree about at least some of my changes. Maybe I should have done them one at a time, Ederchil. A moment ago I did the one that I think should be the least controversial, and if nobody objects to that, I'll move on to the next-least controversial. Spearwielder 00:15, 19 August 2013 (UTC)
For the ones that I think are more controversial, I'll explain why I did them here before redoing them. Spearwielder 00:16, 19 August 2013 (UTC)
Thanks for not being discouraged Spearwielder, we really appreciate your contributions! --Hyarion 02:08, 19 August 2013 (UTC)