Possible inconsistencies in the legendarium

From Tolkien Gateway
"I shan't call it the end, till we've cleared up the mess." — Sam
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The inconsistencies are various vague or seemingly contradictory statements that can be found throughout Tolkien's writings.

Although J.R.R. Tolkien paid a great deal of attention to detail in his Secondary world to preserve a realistic consistency,[1] in this vast creation, unavoidably, some more or less degrees of inconsistencies had slipped in. Most can be revealed after more than one reading of the books and through study. Regarding the inconsistencies, Christopher Tolkien has noted that:

...the credibility that my father was so anxious to maintain. Of course if he had noticed this inconsistency himself or had it pointed out to him he would have altered it without a second thought.
—Christopher Tolkien's letter to Wayne G. Hammond and Christina Scull.[2]:p. xliv

He also noted that:

However much my father desired to achieve consistency at every level of his work, from capital letters to the dates of dynasties, he was bound to fail. [...] His life was a perpetual battle against time (& tiredness) [...] But he 'niggled' on a grand and noble conception, & indeed its coherence in fine detail is a part of its power.
—Christopher Tolkien's letter to Wayne G. Hammond and Christina Scull.[2]:p. xliii

J.R.R. Tolkien's comment, late in life, was quoted by Hammond and Scull:

Personally I have ceased to bother about these minor 'discrepancies', since if the genealogies and calendars etc. lack verisimilitude it is in their general excessive accuracy: as compared with real annals or genealogies! Anyway the slips are few, have mostly been removed, and the discovery of what remain seems an amusing pastime!
—Letter to Joy Hill, October 30, 1967, quoted in the "Note on the 50th Anniversary Edition."

Hammond and Scull added, "In fact Tolkien had not 'ceased to bother', and 'slips' were dealt with as opportunities arose."[3]

Fans of Tolkien usually accept that in any work there are usually plot holes. In a larger, far more detailed and realistic book we expect fewer (if any) plot holes, when in reality there is a far greater chance because of its complexity.[source?]

Any inconsistency can be blamed on the "fictional Tolkien" who adapted ancient sources such as the Red Book or on the characters who wrote and compiled those sources.[4] Tolkien himself mentioned in Appendix D that he might have made many errors on the calendar while "translating" the "ancient sources", a comment written as a fail-safe for any narrative error the author might have made, and mentioned in Appendix F ("Of the Elves") that Frodo had erred in thinking the dialect of Sindarin spoken by the elves of Lórien was Silvan Elvish.[5]

Such explanations attributing the inconsistencies to the "translator Tolkien" or the "original sources" are easy and unenlightening. Therefore many fans prefer to explain them with some internal explanation. The explanations below are of this type. For example, at least some of the logical inconsistencies can be attributed to the characters' own erroneous sayings, since none of them has all knowledge about everything. Contradictions of this type are grouped under "Characters". Others are grouped under "Facts", which has subgroups.

Please also bear in mind that most of Tolkien's writings are highly poetic, which implies that the "vagueness" is a very core characteristic and value to them. Thus in some cases a seeming "inconsistency" might be nothing more than the result of unnecessary over-analysis and clinging to superficial details instead of internal value.

Characters[edit | edit source]

The Eldest[edit | edit source]

Both Tom Bombadil and Treebeard are referred to as the eldest being in Middle-earth. Tom says that about himself,[6] and Elrond mentions that the Elves knew Tom as "oldest and fatherless".[7] However, Gandalf tells Théoden that Treebeard is "the oldest of all living things",[8] and Celeborn addresses Treebeard as "Eldest".[9]

Maybe Tom is not "alive" as Treebeard is.[10][11] On this subject, Gandalf, Saruman, and Sauron have existed far longer than Treebeard, as they are Maiar, but they haven't been alive (embodied physically) as long.

Giving up a Ring of Power[edit | edit source]

Gandalf says, "'A Ring of Power looks after itself, Frodo. It may slip off treacherously, but its keeper never abandons it. At most he plays with the idea of handing it on to some one else's care—and that only at an early stage, when it first begins to grip. But as far as I know Bilbo alone in history has gone beyond playing, and really done it.'"[12] However, Gandalf's own ring was given to him freely by Círdan.[13] Also, the dwarves of Durin's Folk who held their Ring typically "surrendered" it when near death, and in particular Thrór gave it to his son Thráin II,[14] as Gandalf says at the Council of Elrond.[7]

Perhaps Gandalf meant only the Rings that Sauron had had a hand in making, which might be the only ones that "grip." Gandalf's ring is one of the Three, which Sauron didn't touch. Durin's Folk believed that they had received their Ring directly from the Elven-Smiths, though Sauron did help to make it. Further, it is noted in the Appendices that the Rings could influence Dwarves to a much lesser extent than Men, specifically "the only power over [Dwarves] that the Rings wielded was to inflame their hearts with a greed of gold and precious things."[15] Gandalf may have been speaking implicitly only of Men, considering the context of the conversation and his audience.[source?]

Sam's spying[edit | edit source]

Meriadoc Brandybuck tells Frodo Baggins that as a result of Samwise Gamgee's eavesdropping, he and Peregrin Took "know most of what Gandalf has told you about the Ring."[16] Most of what Gandalf told Frodo was in one long conversation, at the end of which Gandalf caught Sam.[12] This contradicts Merry's statement that after Sam was caught, he "seemed to regard himself as on parole, and dried up."[16]

Maybe Sam's information was what he learned before he was caught,[source?] though that's not what Merry says.

A choice of dangers[edit | edit source]

Aragorn tells the hobbits, as they prepare to leave Bree, "After Weathertop our journey will become more difficult, and we shall have to choose between various dangers."[17] The ridges they have to climb after Weathertop may be more difficult than the Midgewater Marshes, but they encounter no dangers on the route Aragorn chooses, and he doesn't mention any choices of dangers or even warn the hobbits of any dangers, except the chance that the Nazgûl will find them as they cross the Last Bridge.[18]

Not all risked dangers actually materialize, and Aragorn does cite two other possible courses that have their own possible hazards. One is going north through the Ettendales instead of crossing the Ford of Bruinen, but in addition to the danger of trolls, that route would take too long and the Company could run out of food. The other is finding the Ford without following the Road, but Aragorn regards that as impossible.[19] In his estimation, the Road was clearly the path most likely to get the Company to Rivendell safely, regardless of whether the alternatives were truly impossible or merely less practical than the best alternative.

Aragorn's knowledge[edit | edit source]

Aragorn tells the hobbits in Bree, "I know all the lands between the Shire and the Misty Mountains, for I have wandered over them for many years."[17] But later, speaking of the Ettendales, he says, "That is troll-country, and little known to me," and "I do not know the way".[18] The Ettendales or Ettenmoors are on a line between the Shire and the northern part of the Misty Mountains.[source?]

If we take Aragorn's line "wandered over them" literally, we can accept that Aragorn has also wandered over the Ettendales. Of course that doesn't necessarily means that Aragorn should know everything about those lands, or even know all ways (e.g., to Rivendell) through them. He says that he knows those lands "little."

Building Barad-dûr[edit | edit source]

Elrond says at his council that the foundations of Barad-dûr were made with the One Ring,[20] which is consistent with its destruction when the Ring is destroyed. However, according to the Tale of Years, Sauron began building Barad-dûr in about S.A. 1000 and forged the Ring in about S.A. 1600.[21]

Maybe Sauron ordered his Orcs to begin gathering materials and preparing the land for construction in S.A. 1000, and only commenced building once he forged the Ring in S.A. 1600.[source?] Six hundred years is a long time, but the Barad-dûr was a monumental structure that would have required an unprecedented amount of stone, iron, and other materials to erect. Or maybe the foundations were built before the making of the Ring, but lacking a last piece, or some power of will that the Ring provided.[source?]

Heirlooms of Arnor[edit | edit source]

At the Council of Elrond, Aragorn says of Narsil, the Sword of Elendil, "It has been treasured by his heirs when all other heirlooms were lost" (emphasis added).[7] However, Appendix A lists other heirlooms that were kept with it: "...there [at Rivendell] also were kept the heirlooms of their house: the Ring of Barahir, the shards of Narsil, the star of Elendil, and the sceptre of Annúminas."[22]

The Ring of Barahir was briefly lost to the Dúnedain when Arvedui bartered it to the Lossoth for supplies. No loss of the other heirlooms appears.

Possession of the Nine Rings[edit | edit source]

In The Council of Elrond Gandalf says that the Nazgûl kept their Rings by saying "The Nine the Nazgûl keep".[7] However in most other references, it is mentioned that Sauron had taken them.[23][24] Furthermore, Frodo doesn't see any Rings on them on Weathertop, and it is believed that if they did wear the Rings, they would have been fully invisible (including their cloaks).[25] The line in the Council of Elrond represents Tolkien's earlier intention that the Nazgûl should still be wearing their Rings, but he later changed his mind and simply missed revising that sentence.

The phrase can be also interpreted as "The Nine keep the Nazgûl in Sauron’s thrall," though this would be an awkward construction. The doings of Sauron and the Nazgûl were mostly unknown to the Council, so it is likely that Gandalf did not actually know the physical disposition of the Rings and was merely alluding to the indelible association between the Nine Rings and the Nine Nazgûl. Moreover, as far as the Council was concerned, the situation was equivalent whether the Nine Rings were on Sauron's fingers or on those of his slaves, so the lack of precision was immaterial.

Feeling the mithril coat[edit | edit source]

The mithril coat that Bilbo gives Frodo is "almost as supple as linen". However, when Bilbo slaps Frodo on the back after giving him the coat, he says, "Ow!... You are too hard now to slap!"[26]

Perhaps Bilbo is joking. Or perhaps the mail tenses in response to an impact, similar to non-Newtonian fluids solidifying under stress. It's fairly common in Middle-earth for works of master craftsmanship to have some "magical" attributes, and given the cost of mithril, it's a safe bet that only the best smiths in Erebor would have undertaken such a project. Of all of the magical abilities one might want for a coat of nigh-unbreakable chain mail, the ability to turn solid when struck while being as soft as cloth at all other times would be high on the list.

Galadriel's mind-reading[edit | edit source]

Galadriel tells Frodo and Sam that she knows Sauron's thoughts that concern the Elves.[27] It seems strange that they don't ask her whether she has any information they might find useful and she doesn't offer them any. Also, she doesn't seem to have known that Saruman had switched to Sauron's side nineteen years earlier, though it must have been in Sauron's thoughts and the defection of a member of the White Council seems to concern the Elves. At least, she didn't warn Gandalf in the messages he got from Lórien after reading the Scroll of Isildur, the year before he trustingly entered Orthanc.[7] (Also, when Aragorn was serving in Gondor under the name Thorongil, he "often warned Ecthelion not to put trust in Saruman".[28] It's strange that he knew not to trust Saruman but Gandalf didn't.)

Conceivably Galadriel gained the ability to read Sauron's mind sometime after the messages went to Gandalf.

Galadriel's role[edit | edit source]

Galadriel tells the Fellowship, "I will not give you counsel, saying do this, or do that. For not in doing or contriving, or in choosing between this course and another, can I avail; but only in knowing what was and is, and in part also what shall be."[29] Later she tells Frodo, "I do not counsel you one way or the other. I am not a counsellor."[27] However, the rhyme she sends Aragorn advises a specific course: the Grey Company should come out of Rivendell, and Aragorn should take the Paths of the Dead.[30] Likewise Legolas and Gimli conclude that Galadriel sent the message to the Grey Company telling them to join Aragorn in Rohan; this seems to be "contriving" and "choosing between one course and another". Incidentally, it is odd that the Grey Company got this message without knowing who it was from.[31]

One could imagine that someone else (Celeborn?) made the decisions and Galadriel only sent the messages; Legolas and Gimli may have erred in thinking she was the source. Alternatively, it is conceivable that Galadriel's words to the Fellowship were calculated to have a desired impact, even though at face value they seemed to be of no use.

The origin of orcs[edit | edit source]

Treebeard tells Merry and Pippin that Morgoth made trolls and orcs.[32] However, Frodo says to Sam, "The Shadow that bred them [Orcs] can only mock, it cannot make real new things of its own. I don't think it gave life to the Orcs, it only ruined and twisted them."[33]

Tolkien went through several attempts to explain the origin of orcs and never stated a definitive answer. However, when he addressed this point in "Letter 153", he described Treebeard as "not one of the Wise", and he quoted and endorsed Frodo's line above.

Tales of hobbits[edit | edit source]

Pippin tells Théoden, "I have wandered in many lands, since I left my home, and never till now have I found people that knew any story concerning hobbits."[8] But hobbits live in Bree, Tom Bombadil knows many stories about hobbits, one would think the Rangers (who guard the Shire and Bree) and the Elves of Rivendell (where Bilbo has been living) would know some, and the Elves of Lórien have at least heard of hobbits.[34]

Pippin has just woken up from a nap, after a lunch that included wine, and is talking to a king for the first time in his life; he may not be thinking clearly. Alternatively, Pippin is the most glib and smooth or courtly of the hobbits in the Fellowship, and he may have exaggerated to flatter the king, even without realizing he was doing it.

The peril of deep arts[edit | edit source]

In connection with the palantír of Orthanc, Gandalf observes to Pippin, "Perilous to us all are the devices of an art deeper than we possess ourselves."[35] However, never in The Hobbit or The Lord of the Rings does he warn Thorin or the hobbits against using elvish swords, which glow in the presence of orcs, or daggers from the barrow, which are especially effective against Ringwraiths. He returns the Phial of Galadriel to Frodo and Galadriel's box of earth to Sam without any warnings. Also, there is no apparent danger in characters' using other products of elven arts (cloaks, hithlain ropes, lembas).

Maybe the palantíri are "devices" in a sense in which the other things named are not.
Furthermore, it's possible that Gandalf was only attempting to discourage Pippin's curiosity, worrying that it could lead to another dangerous situation like that with the palantír.

The eyes in Orthanc[edit | edit source]

When Aragorn tells Gimli and Legolas that he's confronted Sauron in the palantír, he says that Sauron had not previously known Aragorn was alive. In explanation, he adds, "The eyes in Orthanc did not see through the armour of Théoden".[36] But Wormtongue knew that Aragorn claimed to be Isildur's heir, as Gandalf points out to Pippin.[35] Thus whether Wormtongue recognized Aragorn from Orthanc doesn't matter to Sauron's knowledge of Aragorn's existence. (What Aragorn should have deduced was that either Wormtongue never told Saruman about him, or Saruman didn't reveal the knowledge, whether to Sauron through the palantír or to the Nazgûl who came to demand Saruman's supposed captive hobbit. (The latter is what Gandalf tells Pippin he fears.)

Mouth of Sauron and "Sauron the Great"[edit | edit source]

Aragorn mentions that the name "Sauron" (meaning "Abominable") is the name used by his enemies, and Sauron does not permit it to be pronounced.[37] Therefore it would be problematic, if not logically impossible, for the Ringwraiths to think "Sauron would deal with them later" as they rode away from Crickhollow,[38] for the messenger to Dáin to refer to his master as "the Lord Sauron the Great", as Aragorn had heard at the Council of Elrond,[39] and for a servant of Sauron to say, "I am the Mouth of Sauron".[40]

It could be that Aragorn was mistaken, perhaps thinking of the time before Sauron had declared himself. Another possibility is that the "Mouth" used a different name or title, perhaps in the Black Speech, and Frodo or the translator Tolkien "translated" it as Sauron to clarify it for readers. As the Ringwraiths' thoughts would not have been known to anyone else, the passage presenting those thoughts must have been invented by Frodo or the translator Tolkien, who would be responsible for the choice of "Sauron" there. A similar possibility is that despite Aragorn's blanket statement, Sauron sometimes allowed his servants to use the name in communicating with others who used it. As many of his enemies only knew his "true" name as Sauron, it would also allow him to keep his true names and aliases hidden from them, as well as allow them to immediately recognize whom his servants were referring to.

Hewing Orcs[edit | edit source]

At Helm's Deep, Gimli tells Éomer that he had 'hewn naught but wood since I left Moria', forgetting that he fought Orcs not long before.

This discrepancy was noted by Wayne G. Hammond and Christina Scull in The Lord of the Rings: A Reader's Companion, where they explained that they left it unchanged in the 50th anniversary edition because correcting it was impossible, as it would require rewriting the dialogue.[2]:p. xliv Amon Hen was a week before the Battle of the Hornburg; even for a stout Dwarven warrior, lamenting not killing an Orc for that short period would make him look too bloodthirsty. However, it is possible to interpret Gimli as being scornful towards his latest opponents, deliberately meaning that they were no better than "wood".

Facts[edit | edit source]

Doors of Durin[edit | edit source]

Moria translates as "Black Pit" or "Black Chasm" in Sindarin, and the name was said to have been given by the Elves "without love",[41] possibly indicating that it was a derogatory description. Furthermore, The Silmarillion states that Khazad-dûm was "afterwards in the days of its darkness called Moria",[42] suggesting the name was not widely used until after Durin's Bane took over the city and it was overrun by Orcs. It is therefore a paradox why that name appears on the Doors of Durin (Ennyn Durin Aran Moria), made in the Second Age, and with the consent of the Dwarves.

There are many possible explanations to this apparent inconsistency.[43] The name may have been given by the Elves in reference to Moria's inherent darkness from being underground (in contrast with their love for "green earth and the lights of heaven"), and therefore was in use before Moria's fall to the Balrog.[41] There is also no clear evidence that the Dwarves found this name to be offensive, and they may have had no objection to its use on the doors. Some "external" explanations suggest that since the translated names Durin and Narvi are seen in the inscription, Moria may also be a "translated" name.

Eagles[edit | edit source]

One of the best-known alleged plot holes is why the Eagles came to carry Frodo and Sam back from Mount Doom but did not help them to fly the One Ring there, or at least help them at other points in their journey such as the crossing of the Misty Mountains. It is particularly hard to understand why this idea was not proposed in the Council of Elrond.

This question is discussed in detail in the article on the Eagles, which gives several explanations.
In general the explanations for not flying the Ring to Mount Doom are better than those for the Fellowship's not at least trying to have the Eagles fly them across the Misty Mountains.

Distances[edit | edit source]

The distances of the Dwarves' travel to Rivendell in The Hobbit seem to have different proportions than those in The Lord of the Rings. Tolkien tried to reconcile the Hobbit description with the scale of the LotR map but couldn't find an appropriate solution.[44]

While Frodo and his companions needed 28 days from Hobbiton to Rivendell (10.7 miles/day)[45], Karen Wynn Fonstad calculated that Bilbo and Thorin and Company needed 38 days (17.5 miles/day)[45]. Andreas Moehn goes further and supposes that Thorin and Co. wanted two weeks from the Trollshaws till Rivendell (a distance which Glorfindel covered in two days), resulting in c. 48 days total.[46].

The distances and days are not described in the narrative and can be measured only by references such as the moon phases and other fan calculations; therefore there can be a margin of miscalculation.
In general, perhaps the Dwarves are by nature slower travelers than Men and/or Hobbits. In The Departure of Boromir it is seen that Gimli had a problem keeping pace with Aragorn and Legolas.
The errand of bringing the Ring to Rivendell was much more pressing than the Dwarves'. The dragon was not going anywhere. And Frodo and his companions were hunted down by the Nazgûl.

Beater and Biter[edit | edit source]

The swords Glamdring and its "mate" Orcrist are said to have belonged to King Turgon of the First Age. They never appeared much in battle (Turgon fought only in the Nirnaeth Arnoediad) and they were witnessed only by the Orcs of Beleriand. However, in the Third Age the swords are found in a Troll hoard in Eriador, and the Orcs of the Misty Mountains recognize them by their names. The Orcs don't seem to react similarly in the sight of Glamdring in LotR, nor do they seem to recognize Narsil/Andúril, which is much more "recent".

There can be several theories and explanations of how the swords and even their reputations reach Eriador. However, the narrative of The Silmarillion doesn't justify their significance to the extent of being remembered and recognized by the Goblins of the Third Age, even by tradition.

The elf-king's favorite gems[edit | edit source]

The narration of The Hobbit says the elf-king's favorite gems are "white."[47] However, after the Battle of Five Armies, the narration says, "To the Elven-king he [Bard] sent the emeralds of Girion, such gems as he most loved...."[48]

The sentence is somewhat ambiguous: "he" could refer to Bard or Girion instead of the elf-king. However, the elf-king's preference in gems, not the others', would be relevant to Bard's choice of what to give him.

Thráin and Thorin's settling in the Blue Mountains[edit | edit source]

A map of north-west Middle-earth

After Thráin II and his followers returned to Dunland following the Battle of Azanulbizar in T.A. 2799,

they removed and wandered in Eriador, until at last they made a home in exile in the east of the Ered Luin beyond the Lune.[14]

From the point of view of Eriador and the Shire, "beyond the Lune" is north of it.

However, the "Tale of Years" (Appendix B) states,

Thráin and his son Thorin wander westwards. They settle in the South of Ered Luin beyond the Shire (2802)[13]

It is difficult to reconcile the descriptions "beyond the Lune" and "in the south of the Ered Luin."

Other mentions of the Dwarves' homes in the Ered Luin are consistent with both possibilities. "Dwarves dwelt in the east side of the Blue Mountains, especially in those parts south of the Gulf of Lune, where they have mines that are still in use."[22]

"Especially in those parts south of the Gulf of Lune" implies that a smaller number of Dwarves lived north of the Gulf, as shown in two other quotations. In a parenthetical comment made in "Of Dwarves and Men" in The Peoples of Middle-earth, Tolkien indicated that beyond the inflow of the Little Lune was 'Dwarf territory'.[49] Likewise in Appendix A: Arvedui, the last king of Arthedain, "hid in the tunnels of the old dwarf-mines near the far end of the Mountains".[22]

Westron and English[edit | edit source]

In a few places, Tolkien might be thought to have forgotten that the English, including Old English, in The Lord of the Rings is supposed to be translated from Westron and related languages. Some of these are easily explained, and Tolkien explained the similarity between the Sindarin Baranduin and the English "Brandywine".[50] The most difficult is the comment, "This was Orthanc, the citadel of Saruman, the name of which had (by design or chance) a twofold meaning; for in the Elvish speech orthanc signifies Mount Fang, but in the language of the Mark of old the Cunning Mind."[51] However, orthanc means "cunning" not in Rohanese but in Old English, which Tolkien used to translate Rohanese.

By a further coincidence, the unattested name for Orthanc in Rohanese could also be "Orthanc" and mean "cunning mind".

Chronology[edit | edit source]

When Bilbo departed[edit | edit source]

In the chapter Roast Mutton, Thorin and Company depart from the Green Dragon "one fine morning just before May." In the later written and published "The Quest of Erebor", part of "Unfinished Tales", the author established that the day of departure was 27 April.[52] However, the chapter Flies and Spiders refers to what has happened "since they started their journey that May morning long ago."

The fifth month of the Shire Calendar, Thrimidge, falls between 22 April to 21 May. By the human calendar, the journey would have started just before May; but by the hobbit calendar, the journey started during Thrimidge. The second reference to May could have been a "translation error", where "Thrimidge" was translated as "May" regardless of the actual date.
White Council during the Watchful Peace[edit | edit source]

According to Appendix A, "The Stewards", during the Watchful Peace "Sauron withdrew before the power of the White Council and the Ringwraiths remained hidden in Morgul Vale". However the Watchful Peace ended in T.A. 2460, three years before the White Council was formed. Thus according to Robert Foster, the reference to the Council is "incorrect".[53]

Foster suggests that the reference to the "White Council" is rather to "the Wise" in general.
Moon phases[edit | edit source]

Tolkien was particularly careful about the phases of the Moon in the LotR. Yet some errors did elude him. See for example January 13, January 16, February 22, September 22.

In general, it is possible that Tolkien consulted a modern almanac to model the moon phases, and also possible that he confused the meanings of "New Moon": the astronomical (the moment when the moon is darkest) and the colloquial (appearance of the new crescent moon).[54]

Another error appears in The Hobbit: Bard I killed Smaug "at the rising of the moon"[55] when "the moon rose above the eastern shore and silvered his [Smaug's] great wings... the waxing moon rose higher and higher". Also the thrush tells Bard, "Wait! Wait!... The Moon is rising." [56] However, according to astronomy a waxing moon rises only in the morning, after the sun. We can be certain the moon was waxing because this occurs the day after Durin's Day, which is the first day in the last month of autumn that the new moon is visible together with the sun.[46]

One might imagine that Bard needed to wait for the moon to fall below a cloudbank and that the tradition is corrupt.[46]
Shadow over Hollin[edit | edit source]

While the Fellowship of the Ring traverses Hollin, they see and feel a flying shadow over them.[26] Since no other such phenomena occur, when the Fell Beasts are introduced, the reader makes such a connection. However Grishnakh later tells Uglúk that Sauron was not yet permitting the Nazgûl to traverse to the west side of the Anduin,[57] and still later Gandalf says, "The Nazgûl have crossed the River!" as if it were something new.[35]

Possibly a Nazgûl got lost or disobeyed orders and prematurely crossed the Anduin. Or possibly the fellowship noticed something unexplained and unrelated to the Fell Beasts. Perhaps it was some feeling of foreboding as they would eventually have to go to Moria. It could also be a sort of metaphor of Sauron observing them, as often throughout the books Sauron's gaze is compared to a heavy shadow bearing down on what it sees. Another possibility is that it was a flock of crebain (crows) sent by Saruman flying overhead.
Nights in Lórien[edit | edit source]

The surviving members of the Company spend their first night in Lórien in a "flet" in a tree. On their second night, "they rested and slept without fear on the ground".[58] On their third night, they sleep on the ground again, in a pavilion in Caras Galadon. "For a little while the travellers talked of their night before in the tree-tops, and of their day's journey...." And Aragorn says, "But tonight I shall sleep without fear for the first time since I left Rivendell."[27] The night in the tree-tops was not the night before, and Aragorn did sleep without fear on the previous night, so the second night appears to be forgotten.

In Lórien at least some members of the Fellowship lose track of the flow of time. Shortly after Aragorn's remark, the narration says, "They remained some days in Lothlórien, so far as they could tell or remember." Also, after leaving Lórien, Sam feels sure they had not spent a whole month there, despite the evidence of the phase of the moon, and Frodo thinks while in Lórien they were in the past and mentions that he doesn't remember seeing the moon while there. However, Legolas assures him that only their perception of time was changed, and Aragorn points out that the time had indeed been a month.[59] Aragorn's forgetting his night without fear could be an effect of this changed sense of time. The phrase in the narration "the night before in the tree-tops" is harder to explain within the story, as the narration does include the intervening night, but the inconspicuous contradiction might be deliberate foreshadowing of what the Company will experience.
Éomer and Éowyn after Aragorn's coronation[edit | edit source]

In the chapter The Steward and the King, it is stated: "So the glad days passed; and on the eighth day of May the Riders of Rohan made ready, and rode off by the North-way, and with them went the sons of Elrond. All the road was lined with people to do them honour and praise them, from the Gate of the City to the walls of the Pelennor."[60] However, in Appendix B of some editions of the novel[61] there is the entry: "May 8 (of 3019) Éomer and Éowyn depart from Rohan with the sons of Elrond".[62] (Emphasis added.)

The sapling's discovery[edit | edit source]

In the text of The Return of the King it is stated: "And Aragorn planted the new tree in the court by the fountain, and swiftly and gladly it began to grow; and when the month of June entered in it was laden with blossom".[60] The wording of this sentence suggests that Aragorn planted the sapling before June began. However, in Appendix B there is the entry: "June 25 (of 3019) King Elessar finds the sapling of the White Tree",[62] in which case it could not have blossomed until late in the month.

Walda's death[edit | edit source]

King Walda's death date is recorded in Appendix A as Third Age 2851 but in Appendix B as Third Age 2861.

Later corrected[edit | edit source]

Several errors were simply remnants of Tolkien's earlier writings, which later escaped his attention when revising the book. Some of them have been corrected in the later editions of The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit.

Bridle and headstall[edit | edit source]

The first edition referred to the "bridle and bit" of Glorfindel's horse, Asfaloth.[18] Rhona Beare wrote to Tolkien asking how that was possible when elves don't use bridles. Tolkien replied in Letter 211 that he'd written "bridle and bit" before thinking about how elves ride, and he changed it to "headstall" in the second edition. However, a later mention of Asfaloth's bridle remained in the chapter.[63]

Durin's Day[edit | edit source]

The original text of The Hobbit described Durin's Day as occurring on "the first day of the last moon of autumn",[64] the "first moon of autumn",[65] and "the last week of autumn".[66] In the 1995 edition the mention in Chapter 4 was revised to place the day at the end of autumn, in line with the other two mentions.[67]

Bandobras' parentage[edit | edit source]

The Prologue mentions that Bandobras Took was the son (not grandson) of Isengrim Took II. This has been corrected in the 50th Anniversary edition.

Sam's birth[edit | edit source]

In the second edition of The Lord of the Rings, Samwise Gamgee's year of birth was added to The Tale of Years as Third Age 2963. This contradicts both a later entry in The Tale of Years and the Appendix C given as Third Age 2980.[68]

Gandalf's letter[edit | edit source]

The letter Gandalf leaves for Frodo at the Prancing Pony is dated "Midyear's Day, Shire Year, 1418."[17] However, in editions published during Tolkien's lifetime, Appendix B says that on June 29, "Gandalf meets Radagast." Then Gandalf says he left Bree at dawn of the following day,[7] which would be June 30, two days before Midyear's Day (as 1 Lithe comes between).

Perhaps Gandalf, who was in a hurry and had been traveling for days, made the error. However, the entry in Appendix B for June 29, 3018, has been deleted from the 50th Anniversary Edition.

Crossing Rohan inconspicuously[edit | edit source]

As they ride away from Isengard, Gandalf tells Merry that the Lidless Eye will be looking toward Rohan, so "He [Théoden] will ride from there [Helm's Deep] to Dunharrow by paths among the hills. From now on no more than two or three together are to go openly over the land, by day or night, when it can be avoided."[69] However, later that night, after Pippin looks into the palantír and Gandalf says they must move from the spot, Théoden says he will go in a group of twelve, and Gandalf agrees.[70] Then when the trip to Helm's Deep starts, the number has increased to twenty-six, and Aragorn goes with Théoden.[71] The trip from Helm's Deep to Dunharrow has a group of five hundred.[72] They do ride through the hills, as Gandalf had said. "Most of the time" they're in a group bigger than three.[73]

The Fiftieth Anniversary Edition contains a clarifying addition to contextualize the order: "He will ride from there with many men to Dunharrow by paths among the hills." (Emphasis added.) This may suggest that "by paths among the hills" is in opposition to "openly over the land". So long as the large groups traveled by the hills, they were not conspicuous to the Lidless Eye.

Knowledge of the Palantíri[edit | edit source]

After Gandalf learns that the crystal ball he has recovered is the palantír of Orthanc, he tells Pippin the White Council didn't know any of the palantíri (presumably those of Gondor) survived disaster in Gondor (presumably the Kin-strife).[74] However, after Denethor reveals his palantír, Gandalf says in earlier editions, "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."[75]

Gandalf could have learned about the two palantíri by himself, after the last time the White Council met (66 years earlier), or he was concealing his knowledge so as to keep secret his source for this information.
However, in the Fiftieth Anniversary Edition, the sentence was revised to read, "Though the Stewards deemed that it was a secret kept only by themselves, long ago I guessed that here in the White Tower, one at least of the Seven Seeing Stones was preserved." (Emphasis added.)

Addition of the Westmarch (and Buckland) to the Shire[edit | edit source]

In early editions, the "Prologue" to The Lord of the Rings contained the sentence "Outside the Farthings were the East and West Marches: the Buckland and the Westmarch added to the Shire in S.R. 1462."[76] That had two inconsistencies with other parts of the text. First, the "Tale of Years" dates the event to S.R. 1452.[77] Second, various points indicate that Buckland was part of the Shire. The clearest may be Merry's comment to the other hobbits, when they have gone through the tunnel under the High Hay from Buckland into the Old Forest, that they have left the Shire.[78]

In the 50th Anniversary Edition, the sentence was changed to "Outside the Farthings were the East and West Marches: the Buckland; and the Westmarch added to the Shire in S.R. 1452." In addition to the correction of the date, the semicolon after "Buckland" indicates that Buckland was not added to the Shire after the War of the Ring, making the sentence consistent with the idea that it was already part of the Shire.[79]

Mirror of Galadriel[edit | edit source]

In editions prior to the 50th Anniversary Edition, the Tale of Years mentions that Frodo and Sam looked into the Mirror of Galadriel on 14 February. However it is clear from the narrative that this occurred one day before departure on 16 February, not two. Hammond and Scull decided to fix the Tale of Years so that the Mirror of Galadriel sequence happened on 15 February.

From the publishers[edit | edit source]

Nameless Pass as an alternative name for Cirith Ungol in the index[edit | edit source]

The index entry for Cirith Ungol has Nameless Pass as an (alternative) name in brackets, and the index entry for Nameless Pass has "see Cirith Ungol" after it in the following e-book editions:

  • The Lord of the Rings (i.e. The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers and The Return of the King together in one e-book) published by HarperCollinsPublishers 2005 EPub Edition © MARCH 2009 ISBN: 978-0-007-32259-6
  • The Return of the King, J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, Part 3 published by HarperCollins Publishers 2008 EPub Edition © MARCH 2009 ISBN: 978-0-007-32255-8

The description of the landscape below seen by Frodo from the winding stairs in the chapter The Stairs of Cirith Ungol and the description of the landscape below seen by Sam from the pass of Cirith Ungol contradict that the Nameless Pass was an alternative name for the Pass of Cirith Ungol. In the chapter The Stairs of Cirith Ungol Frodo from above on the winding stair sees the wraith-road running from the dead city in a great revine at the head of the Morgul Valley to the "Nameless Pass" that is also referred to as the "main pass."

In the chapter The Tower of Cirith Ungol Sam sees a broad road running from the Tower of Cirith Ungol down to join the road that came over the Morgul Pass. "The dead city" seems to be an alternative name for Minas Morgul. "Wraith-road" seems to be an alternative name for the Morgul-road.

Frodo can see the road that runs from Minas Morgul in the great ravine at the head of the Morgul Vale to the Nameless Pass from his observation point high up on the winding stair that leads to the tunnel and then on to the pass of Cirith Ungol. Sine the road leads from the Tower of Cirith Ungol and winds down to join the road that came from the Morgul Pass, then Cirith Ungol must be higher up on the left side of the Nameless Pass, and the Nameless Pass cannot be the same as the Pass of Cirith Ungol. Since no other pass is mentioned in the landscape, the "Nameless Pass" must be the Morgul Pass (also referred to as the "main pass"), and Cirith Ungol must be the pass that is also referred to as the "high pass."

HarperCollins 2005 EPub Edition of March 2009[edit | edit source]

The entry that King Argeleb I was slain in battle in appendix B The Third Age is erroneously dated with the year 1977 instead of the year 1356 that was in the edition of the ROTK by George Allen & Unwin from 1966. As a consequence the following entries up to and including the entry that many Periannath migrate from Bree erroneously have the date from the entry that immediately precedes each entry that was in the edition of the ROTK by George Allen & Unwin from 1966.

The entry that the Corsairs ravage Pelargir and slay King Minardil is erroneously dated with the year 1601 instead of the year 1634 that was in the edition of the ROTK by George Allen & Unwin from 1966. The year 1601 is the year for the entry that is two entries above this entry.

The entry that the Great Plague devastates Gondor is erroneously dated with the year 1634 instead of the year 1636 that was in the edition of the ROTK by George Allen & Unwin from 1966. The following entries up to and including the entry that Frumgar leads the Éothéod into the North also erroneously have the date from the entry that immeditately precedes each entry that was in the edition of the ROTK by George Allen & Unwin from 1966.

The entry that the Nazgûl issue from Mordor and besiege Minas Ithil is erroneously dated with the year 2002 instead of the year 2000 that was in the edition of the ROTK by George Allen & Unwin from 1966.

The entry for the fall of Minas Ithil is erroneously dated with the year 2043 instead of the year 2002 that was in the edition of the ROTK by George Allen & Unwin from 1966.

The entry that King Eärnur becomes King of Gondor and is challenged by the Witch-king is erroneously dated with the year 2000 instead of the year 2043 that was in the edition of the ROTK by George Allen & Unwin from 1966.


  1. J.R.R. Tolkien; Humphrey Carpenter, Christopher Tolkien (eds.), The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, Letter 236, (dated 30 December, [1961]])
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Wayne G. Hammond and Christina Scull (eds), The Lord of the Rings: A Reader's Companion
  3. The Lord of the Rings, 50th Anniversary Edition, "Note on the 50th Anniversary Edition"
  4. J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, Appendix F, "On Translation"
  5. J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, The Fellowship of the Ring, "Lothlórien". A footnote directs the reader to the correction in the appendix.
  6. J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, The Fellowship of the Ring, "In the House of Tom Bombadil", "Eldest, that's what I am.... Tom was here before the river and the trees; Tom remembers the first raindrop and the first acorn."
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 7.4 7.5 J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, The Fellowship of the Ring, "The Council of Elrond"
  8. 8.0 8.1 J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, The Two Towers, "The Road to Isengard"
  9. J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, The Return of the King, "Many Partings"
  10. Tom Shippey, The Road to Middle-earth: Revised and Expanded Edition, p. 107
  11. Gene Hargrove, "Tom Bombadil", in Michael D. C. Drout, ed., J. R. R. Tolkien Encyclopedia (2006), Routledge, p. 671
  12. 12.0 12.1 J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, The Fellowship of the Ring, "The Shadow of the Past"
  13. 13.0 13.1 J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, Appendix B, "The Third Age"
  14. 14.0 14.1 J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, Appendix A, "Durin's Folk"
  15. J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, Appendix A, "Durin's Folk"
  16. 16.0 16.1 J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, The Fellowship of the Ring, "A Conspiracy Unmasked"
  17. 17.0 17.1 17.2 J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, The Fellowship of the Ring, "Strider"
  18. 18.0 18.1 18.2 J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, The Fellowship of the Ring, "Flight to the Ford"
  19. J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, The Fellowship of the Ring, "Flight to the Ford", "'We cannot hope to find a path through these hills. Whatever danger may beset it, the Road is our only way to the Ford.'"
  20. J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, The Fellowship of the Ring, "The Council of Elrond", "The Dark Tower was broken, but its foundations were not removed; for they were made with the power of the Ring, and while it remains they will endure.
  21. https://www.quora.com/What-inconsistencies-if-any-appear-in-the-Hobbit-Lord-of-the-Rings-and-the-Silmarillion
  22. 22.0 22.1 22.2 J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, Appendix A, "The Númenorean Kings", "Eriador, Arnor, and the Heirs of Isildur"
  23. J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, The Fellowship of the Ring, "The Shadow of the Past", "the Nine [Sauron] has gathered to himself; the Seven also, or else they are destroyed."
  24. J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, The Fellowship of the Ring, "The Mirror of Galadriel", "You saw the Eye of him that holds the Seven and the Nine."
  25. http://oakroadsystems.com/genl/ringfaq.htm#Q0-InvRiders
  26. 26.0 26.1 J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, The Fellowship of the Ring, "The Ring Goes South"
  27. 27.0 27.1 27.2 J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, The Fellowship of the Ring, "The Mirror of Galadriel"
  28. J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, Appendix A
  29. J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, The Fellowship of the Ring, "The Old Forest"
  30. J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, The Two Towers, "The White Rider"
  31. J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, The Return of the King, "The Passing of the Grey Company"
  32. J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, The Two Towers, "Treebeard". "But Trolls are only counterfeits, made by the Enemy in the Great Darkness, in mockery of Ents, as Orcs were of Elves."
  33. J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, The Return of the King, "The Tower of Cirith Ungol"
  34. J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, The Fellowship of the Ring, "Lothlórien", "We had not heard of—hobbits, of halflings, for many a long year...."
  35. 35.0 35.1 35.2 J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, The Two Towers, "The Palantír"
  36. J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, The Return of the King, "The Passing of the Grey Company"
  37. J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, The Two Towers, "The Departure of Boromir"
  38. J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, The Fellowship of the Ring, "A Knife in the Dark"
  39. J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, The Fellowship of the Ring, "The Council of Elrond"
  40. J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, The Return of the King, "The Black Gate Opens"
  41. 41.0 41.1 J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, Appendix F, "On Translation", p. 1137, "Moria is an Elvish name, and given without love; for the Eldar... were not dwellers in such places of choice"
  42. J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (ed.), The Silmarillion, "Quenta Silmarillion: Of the Sindar"
  43. Wayne G. Hammond and Christina Scull (eds), The Lord of the Rings: A Reader's Companion, pp. 281-2
  44. J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (ed.), The Return of the Shadow p. 204
  45. 45.0 45.1 Karen Wynn Fonstad, The Atlas of Middle-earth
  46. 46.0 46.1 46.2 http://lalaith.vpsurf.de/Tolkien/Durin%27s_Day.html
  47. J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit, "Flies and Spiders", "If the elf-king had a weakness it was for treasure, especially for silver and white gems...."
  48. J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit, "The Return Journey"
  49. J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (ed.), The Peoples of Middle-earth, "Of Dwarves and Men", p. 313
  50. J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, Appendix F, "On Translation" "Brandywine" is somewhat similar in both sound and meaning to the hobbits' Westron nickname for the river, Bralda-him meaning 'heady ale'.
  51. J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, The Two Towers, "The Road to Isengard"
  52. J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (ed.), Unfinished Tales, "The Quest of Erebor"
  53. Robert Foster (2001) The Complete Guide to Middle-Earth: From The Hobbit through The Lord of the Rings and Beyond. Random House Digital, p. 538.
  54. http://shire-reckoning.com/moon.html
  55. J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit, "The Gathering of the Clouds"
  56. J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit, "Fire and Water"
  57. J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, The Two Towers, "The Uruk-hai"
  58. J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, The Fellowship of the Ring, "Lothlórien"
  59. J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, The Fellowship of the Ring, "The Great River"
  60. 60.0 60.1 J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, The Return of the King, "The Steward and the King"
  61. http://www.sf-fandom.com/vbulletin/archive/index.php/t-1958.html
  62. 62.0 62.1 J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, Appendix B, "The Chief Days from the Fall of Barad-dûr to the End of the Third Age"
  63. "His hand left the bridle and gripped the hilt of his sword, and with a red flash he drew it."
  64. J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit, "A Short Rest"
  65. J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit, "Over Hill and Under Hill"
  66. J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit, "On the Doorstep"
  67. Chester N. Scoville, "The Hobbit" in J.R.R. Tolkien Encyclopedia: Scholarship and Critical Assessment (2007), Michael D.C. Drout, ed., Taylor and Francis, p. 279
  68. Wayne G. Hammond, Christina Scull, The Lord of the Rings: A Reader's Companion, page 716
  69. J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, The Two Towers, "The Palantír"
  70. J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, The Two Towers, "The Palantír", "'I will keep Éomer and ten Riders,' said the king. 'They shall ride with me at early day. The rest may go with Aragorn and ride as soon as they have a mind.' 'As you will,' said Gandalf."
  71. J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, The Return of the King, "The Passing of the Grey Company", "Soon all were ready to depart: twenty-four horses, with Gimli behind Legolas, and Merry in front of Aragorn."
  72. J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, The Return of the King, "The Passing of the Grey Company", "A thousand spears had indeed already ridden away at night, but still there would be some five hundred more to go with the king."
  73. J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, The Return of the King, "The Muster of Rohan", "Sometimes where the way was broader he [Merry] had ridden at the king's side, not noticing that many of the Riders smiled to see the two together: the hobbit on his little shaggy grey pony, and the Lord of Rohan on his great white horse. [...] But most of the time, especially on the last day, Merry had ridden by himself just behind the king, saying nothing, and trying to understand the slow sonorous speech of Rohan that he heard the men behind him using."
  74. J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, The Two Towers, "The Palantír", "It was not known to us that any of the palantíri had escaped the ruin of Gondor."
  75. J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, The Return of the King, "The Pyre of Denethor"
  76. J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, "Prologue"
  77. J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, Appendix B, "Later Events Concerning the Members of the Fellowship of the Ring"
  78. J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, The Fellowship of the Ring, "The Old Forest", "'There!' said Merry. 'You have left the Shire, and are now outside, and on the edge of the Old Forest.'"
  79. J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings (50th Anniv. Ed.), "Prologue"