Tolkien Gateway

Letter 211

The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien
Letter 211
RecipientRhona Beare
Date14 October 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.

[edit] Summary

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

  • Sam chanted O Elbereth Gilthoniel in "The Choices of Master Samwise", whilst the rest of the book used A Elbereth Gilthoniel. Tolkien admited that it was an error on his part, but can be explained as Sam's mistake, as he did not know Sindarin.
  • Miss Beare enquired about the meaning of A Elbereth Gilthoniel and the other phrase, Aiya Eärendil elenion ancalima!. Tolkien translated both phrases.
  • Despite the earlier enquiries, this was only dubbed "Question 1", and involved Glorfindel's horse, Asfaloth. He was said to have a "bridle and bit", while later in the book, it was mentioned Elves rode without saddle, bridle and bit. Tolkien admitted it was an error, as the chapter was one of the earliest written. He promised 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 Tolkien explained most of it would be mentioned in the unpublished Downfall of Númenor, and could not yet fully answer it. However, he did tell her that the Ring of Power fed the potency and potentiality of a ruler. Without subjects, there was 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 gave a vague answer that he knew little about them.
  • Question 4 was 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 likened it to the Egyptian pharaohs. Like the Númenorean realms, the North Kingdom had a diadem of Kingship, and the South Kingdom a loft crown.
  • Still as part of Question 4, Miss Beare asked what the difference was between El ("Elf") and El ("Star"), and whether inhabitants of Middle-earth would have known the difference. Tolkien replied that the two words came from the same root, but that outside of personal names, the difference was distinct as both were shortened forms.
  • Also as part of Question 4, Tolkien gave 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 replied that it wasn't, but that it may have been a survivor of older geological eras.
  • Question 5 concerned the mention of the "Elder King"; was he the One? Tolkien told 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 ended the letter saying 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 was, a world in which Men lived as opposed to higher powers. Theologically, it was more a collection of various concepts than an outright allegory of anything.