Key of Orthanc

From Tolkien Gateway
Key of Orthanc
LocationMinas Tirith, then Orthanc, finally Minas Tirith
OwnerStewards of Gondor, Saruman, King Elessar
AppearanceLarge, intricate, black

The Key of Orthanc (often referred to in the plural as the "keys") granted entry to the otherwise impenetrable tower of Orthanc. The keys were large, intricate in shape, black in color, and secured together on a steel ring.[1]


The tower of Orthanc was built between S.A. 3320, the year in which Gondor and Arnor were established, and S.A. 3430, when the Last Alliance of Elves and Men was first formed.[2] Presumably as the tower was completed its doors and the keys that unlocked them were fashioned.

In the Third Age, Calenardhon, which was never densely populated, gradually lost most of its people. Eventually the tower of Orthanc became deserted and its keys were removed to Minas Tirith and kept by the Stewards.[3]

In T.A. 2510,[4] the lands of Calenardhon became the kingdom of Rohan, although Gondor retained control of Isengard and Orthanc. During this time Isengard was manned by a small number of Gondorians led by a hereditary Captain. However the keys of Orthanc were kept by the Stewards of Gondor.[5]

Over time, while retaining the keys of Orthanc, the Stewards forsook the tower as their thoughts looked eastwards. Eventually Isengard came under the control of the Dunlendings who led numerous raids on the Westfold. The Dunlendings were eventually starved out in the great famine after the Long Winter. King Fréaláf and Steward Beren welcomed Saruman's offer to take command of Isengard and in T.A. 2759[6] the wizard was given the keys of Orthanc.[4]

A week before 22 August, T.A. 3019,[7] when King Elessar and company arrived at Orthanc, Saruman had departed Isengard with Gríma Wormtongue. However, before he left, Treebeard made him lock the tower and hand over the keys of Orthanc.[1]

After the fall of Sauron, one of King Elessar's first tasks in the re-ordering of his realm was the restoration of Orthanc. He ordered that the palantír recovered from Saruman should be returned to the tower. Having access with the key of Orthanc it was then that the tower was searched and many secrets were revealed.[4]