The Mewlips

From Tolkien Gateway
This article is about the poem. For the likely fictitious creatures, see Mewlips.
The Mewlips by Richard Svensson.

The Mewlips was a nonsensical, but eerie hobbit poem whose authorship is unknown.[1]


The poem is the only one in the collection that is not referenced in the Introduction, and therefore no background is given about it. Placed in the middle of the collection as the ninth poem, it seems to not fit in with the categories of the other poems: fairy-like, whimsical, bestiary, or emotional, but rather serves as a divider separating the two halves of the collection.[2]

The poem

The Shadows where the Mewlips dwell
Are dark and wet as ink,
And slow and softly rings their bell,
As in the slime you sink.

You sink into the slime, who dare
To knock upon their door,
While down the grinning gargoyles stare
And noisome waters pour.

Beside the rotting river-strand
The drooping willows weep,
And gloomily the gorcrows stand
Croaking in their sleep.

Over the Merlock Mountains a long and weary way,
In a mouldy valley where the trees are grey,
By a dark pool's borders without wind or tide,
Moonless and sunless, the Mewlips hide.

The cellars where the Mewlips sit
Are deep and dank and cold
With single sickly candle lit;
And there they count their gold.

Their walls are wet, their ceilings drip;
Their feet upon the floor
Go softly with a squish-flap-flip,
As they sidle to the door.

They peep out slyly; through a crack
Their feeling fingers creep,
And when they've finished, in a sack
Your bones they take to keep.

Beyond the Merlock Mountains, a long and lonely road,
Through the spider-shadows and the marsh of Tode,
And through the wood of hanging trees and gallows-weed,
You go to find the Mewlips - and the Mewlips feed.[1]

List of terms

Below is a list of terms that are used within the poem.

  • Shadows - The deep dark and cold wet cellars where the Mewlips lived. It had a door with a bell and there was only one lit sickly candle.[1]
  • Mewlips - A fictitious race of beings that dwelled in some cellars at the end of a long road, where were said to count gold. They fed on the protagonist, keeping their bones for their collection.[1] They were possibly based on Orcs.[3]
  • You - The term referring to the protagonist who dares to travel the long road to knock on the Mewlips's door, being devoured by the creatures as a result. Their bones are kept by the Mewlips in a sack.[1]
  • Gargoyles - An unknown number of grinning statues above the door to the cellars of the Mewlips.[1]
  • Gorcrows - A likely fictitious type of crow that croaks in their sleep, presumably dwelling in or near the same place as the Mewlips.[1] Gorcrow ("gore crow") is an Old English name for carrion crow.[4]
  • Merlock Mountains - A likely fictitious name for some mountains on the long, weary, and lonely road to the Mewlips' cellars.[1] Fans have speculated that the name Merlock was inspired by the name Morlock appearing in Tolkien's earlier poem Knocking at the Door.[5]
  • Spider-shadows - A likely fictitious name for Mirkwood on the road to the Mewlips' cellars.[1]
  • Tode - A likely fictitious name for some marshes on the road to the Mewlips' cellars.[1] Tode is the Middle English spelling of "toad"; it was also a word with evil connotations, as toads were considered to be demonic creatures according to Wiktionary (cf. abovementioned link). Furthermore, Tode is also the German word for "death".
  • Wood of hanging trees - A fictitious name for a forest on the road to the Mewlips' cellars.[1]
  • Gallows-weed - A likely fictitious type of hanging weed, found in the wood of hanging trees.[1]

Other versions of the legendarium

"The Mewlips" was a rewrite of an earlier of Tolkien's poems, "Knocking at the Door", which was published in The Oxford Magazine, vol. 55, no. 13 (18 February 1937).[6]

In the plot notes that J.R.R. Tolkien made while writing the The Hobbit, the raftsmen told tales of rafts, men, and beasts disappearing in the Long Marshes;[7] John D. Rateliff suggests that the more ominous line in the notes may indicate that Tolkien had some unpleasantness in mind had Thorin and Company gotten into the marshes - perhaps meeting the Mewlips.[8] If this is the case, the idea of these plot notes may possibly have been in Tolkien's mind when he eventually wrote the poem. If this is indeed the case, then the "you" in the poem may possibly be referring to one of the raftsmen.

Portrayal in adaptations

1982-97: Middle-earth Role Playing:

The Middle-earth Role Playing took inspiration from the poem and came up with their own interpretations of Mewlips and Gorcrows on various supplements. Mewlips are described and given statistics as Undead beings living within swamps and marshes. The race was conceived as having been created by Morgoth during the Elder Days.[9][10] Gorcrows are said to have 4 ft. wingspan and to be smaller cousins of the crebain,[11] being attracted to shiny things.[note 1][12] Northern gorcrows lived in Forodwaith, being described as larger versions of common gorcrows. The Lossoth are said to have regarded northern gorcrows as birds of ill-omen.[13]

2007: The Lord of the Rings Online:

Gore-crows are a type of crebain native to the Lone-lands. They also appear in great number in Mordor.

2008: The Mewlips:

Richard Svensson released a stop-animation short film of "The Mewlips", with accompanying music by Colin Rudd.[14]

2014: 03 - The Mewlips:

Dutch black metal band Walpurgisnacht released their musical interpretation of "The Mewlips", with the poem being the lyrics to their music.[15]

See also

External links


  1. A common character trait of crows, ravens, magpies and jackdaws, for example.


  1. 1.00 1.01 1.02 1.03 1.04 1.05 1.06 1.07 1.08 1.09 1.10 1.11 J.R.R. Tolkien, The Adventures of Tom Bombadil, "The Mewlips"
  2. J.R.R. Tolkien; Christina Scull & Wayne G. Hammond (eds), The Adventures of Tom Bombadil, "Introduction"
  3. Robert Foster, The Complete Guide to Middle-earth, p. 260, entry "Mewlips, The"
  4. Patrick J. Cassidy, ed. (1913), Webster Dictionary
  5. 'geordie', "Middle-earth Is Orbiting Saturn (post #3)" dated 26 December 2012, The Lord of the Rings Fanatics Plaza: Forum (accessed 15 February 2013)
  6. Christina Scull and Wayne G. Hammond (2006), The J.R.R. Tolkien Companion and Guide: II. Reader's Guide. p. 586
  7. J.R.R. Tolkien, John D. Rateliff (ed.), The History of The Hobbit, Mr. Baggins, The Second Phase, "Plot Notes B", p. 362
  8. J.R.R. Tolkien, John D. Rateliff (ed.), The History of The Hobbit, Mr. Baggins, The Second Phase, "Plot Notes B", (ii) Visiting the Mewlips, p. 370
  9. Jeff McKeage (1988), Raiders of Cardolan (#8108)
  10. Jessica Ney (ed.; 1990), Angus McBride's Characters of Middle-earth (#8007)
  11. Ruth Sochard Pitt, Jeff O'Hare, Peter C. Fenlon, Jr. (1994), Creatures of Middle-earth (2nd edition) (#2012)
  12. John Crowdis (1990), Rogues of the Borderlands (#8014), p. 6
  13. Randy Maxwell (1997), The Northern Waste (#2025)
  14. "The Mewlips" dated 11 November 2008, YouTube (accessed 19 June 2024)
  15. "Walpurgisnacht - 03 - The Mewlips" dated 9 October 2014, YouTube (accessed 19 June 2024)