(Some may prefer the plain text version, in case their browser formats this poorly.)

This essay is about a rather obscure point of textual history. If you don't already know what the basic issue is (from watching or participating in a previous discussion, for example), odds are that you won't get much out of what follows.
You've been warned. : )

Finally, I have made no attempt to revise this essay since the publication of John Rateliff's "History of The Hobbit" volumes, which give a far more authoritative treatment of this issue (though certainly a less focused one). Rateliff unambiguously supports the "One Thrain" position described below, and thus the main conclusion of this essay, but I have yet to make any effort to check the validity of the individual arguments below.


Much discussion has occurred (both recently and in the past) about the textual history of the character "Thrain I", whom Tolkien eventually established as the founder of the Dwarvish kingdom under Erebor. In particular, the recent discussion has focused on when Tolkien first invented that character: whether at the time that he first published The Hobbit he intended for there to have been only one Thrain or two. I will denote and summarize the two positions as follows (but note that these summaries have not been approved by all participants, so the specific posts referenced later may be more authoritative):

<2T>: The essential point of the "Two Thrains" position is as follows:

At the time that The Hobbit was first published, Tolkien had knowingly decided that Thorin Oakenshield had two ancestors named "Thrain": his father and a remote ancestor who founded the realm of Erebor long before Thorin's grandfather Thror re-established it.

<1T>: The essential point of the "One Thrain" position is as follows:

At the time that The Hobbit was first published, Tolkien only imagined one ancestor of Thorin Oakenshield named "Thrain": his father. At that time, Tolkien imagined that Thorin's grandfather Thror was the original founder of the realm of Erebor. Tolkien did not knowingly introduce the earlier Thrain until he was preparing the second edition (together with LotR).

Both sides apparently agree that in The Hobbit's prepublication state, there was indisputably only one Thrain. Both agree that when it was published, Thorin's father was Thrain and his grandfather was Thror. And both also agree that by the time that Tolkien wrote the author's note for the second edition of The Hobbit, both Thrains had been firmly established.

History of the debate

Over the years, <2T> has been advocated primarily by Michael Martinez. His most recent and detailed statement of the position can be found in a post of 23 June 2004 entitled "One Thrain or Two: A detailed textual history", which can be found at Google Groups by its Message-ID:


This discussion was written after Conrad Dunkerson and I provided detailed responses to a repost of an earlier message of his. That message was reposted on 20 June 2004 with Message-ID:


This link is provided only for reference in the <1T> section below; it has clearly been superseded by the more polished discussion above. Finally, this essay itself was posted to the newsgroups on 27 Jun 2004 and inspired substantial discussion; you can find it with Message-ID:


While this updated version attempts to take the resulting comments and criticism into account to some degree, reading the original responses may give a clearer picture of the status of the debate.

The position <1T> has been advocated by various people, generally in response to assertions of <2T>. In the recent debate its primary advocates have been myself and Conrad Dunkerson; for reference, see my response to the earlier of Michael's posts above (the second link) and Conrad's initial replies to both of them.


In what follows, I will refer to the following references:

The Annotated Hobbit, 2nd edition, by Douglas Anderson.
J.R.R. Tolkien: Artist and Illustrator, by Wayne Hammond and Christina Scull.
J.R.R. Tolkien: A Descriptive Bibliography, by Wayne Hammond and Douglas Anderson.
The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, ed. Humphrey Carpenter. (Generally referenced simply by "Letter #__".)
The Treason of Isengard, by Christopher Tolkien.
The Peoples of Middle-earth, by Christopher Tolkien.

These sources generally agree closely, reflecting the excellent scholarship that went into all of them; I will note the few points where they appear to disagree on relevant information. Not yet available is a forthcoming book on the textual history of The Hobbit, begun by the late Taum Santoski and under development by John Rateliff. I expect that that book will set all these matters to rest once it appears, but in the meantime we must proceed without it. (Finally, "LotR" refers of course to The Lord of the Rings.)

Content of the essay

I remain quite confident in the <1T> position, though not as certain as I was before I embarked on the research for this essay. Thus, while I will attempt to be fair in what follows, I make no secret of my intent to defend <1T> here. My discussion will be broken into three sections (plus this introduction and a conclusion):

  1. Textual history of The Hobbit, its maps, and related writings.
  2. The illustration "Conversation with Smaug".
  3. Points related to the Arkenstone.

While much of this essay will be familiar from earlier discussions, I am introducing at least two fundamentally new points. In section 1, I will among other things correct a significant misunderstanding of Christopher Tolkien's comments in [Treason] common to both sides of the debate until this point. And in section 2, I will present the most careful analysis of the inscription on the pot of gold in the picture that I am aware of (certainly more detailed than in any published text that I have seen). In any case, I believe that the most significant parts of the argument are found in section 1; I argue below that the evidence in sections 2 and 3 does not support <2T> any more than it does <1T>.

1. Textual histoy of The Hobbit, its maps, and related writings

In what follows, I will give a detailed chronology of relevant points in the history of The Hobbit's writing, with dates flush left and the main text indented. Commentary on how the various points affect <1T> and <2T> will be indented somewhat less.

Summer 1928/29/30:
Tolkien writes the first sentence of The Hobbit.
Tolkien writes "Stage A" of The Hobbit, as described in [AH]. This is basically only chapter 1, with many names changed. This version includes the very first sketch of Thror's Map, as shown on the page excerpt in [AH].
Eventually, he writes "Stage B", which includes chapters 1-12, 14, and an outline for the rest of the tale. Near the end of this version, the head dwarf's name is changed to "Thorin" and the wizard's to "Gandalf" [AH].
Given that Thorin's name was not established until this point, this is the earliest possible point where Christopher Tolkien's comment in [Treason] could apply: "There is no question that the genealogy as first devised in The Hobbit was Thorin Oakenshield - Thrain - Thror".
By Jan 1933:
Tolkien has finished "Stage C", which is a typed draft that covers essentially the same material as Stage B. Apparently, C.S. Lewis read the typescript at this point (January). The Stage C text uses "Thorin" and "Gandalf" throughout. [AH]
Summer 1936:
Tolkien writes "Stage D" (the first version of chapters 13 and 15-19), "Stage E" (the first full typescript), and "Stage F" (a second typescript that was apparently not used, due at least in part to numerous typographical errors). [AH]
In [Treason], Christopher Tolkien says that "At one point, however, Thror and Thrain were reversed in my father's typescript, and this survived into the first proof." That typescript was probably "Stage E", given that the error made it into the proofs (and that "Stage F" wasn't used).
But note the wording here! The reversal of Thror and Thrain occurred at ONE point in the typescript, and that ONE reversal survived into the first proof (Christopher refers a bit later in [Treason] to "that one error" in the proofs). This is contrary to the arguments of both <1T> and <2T> in the past (including my own contributions), which have both claimed that Tolkien's extension of this reversal throughout the book occurred in the final typescript and was printed in the first proofs.
It is only fair to mention that in discussion of this point on the newsgroups, Michael Martinez (the primary proponent of <2T>) continued to advocate the earlier understanding of this history. Nevertheless, I am very confident in my revised reading above.
10 Aug 1936:
Tolkien writes that "TH is now nearly finished". [Bib]
3 Oct 1936:
Tolkien sends the finished typescript to Allen & Unwin, who acknowledge its receipt on 5 Oct [Bib]. According to [AH], this submission includes five maps for the book, including "early versions of Thror's Map (probably a variant of Artist #85...)" and the Wilderland Map. All agree that the submitted version was very similar to [A&I #85], whether that was the exact copy Tolkien sent at the time or not.
This first submitted version of the chart is labeled "Thror's Map" along with the note "Copied by B. Baggins", and includes the phrase "Here of old was the land of Thrain King under the Mountain". It is Tolkien's intent at this time that the map be inserted in the text when it is first mentioned, and printed with the moon-runes reversed on the back of the page so they would only visible when the map is held up to a light.
[A&I] tells us that by the time he drew this version, Tolkien "had already labored on it [Thror's Map] for years", which certainly suggests that he produced a number of versions along the way. [AH] does not comment directly on this point, but its statement that the submitted map was "probably a variant" of [A&I #85] certainly suggests that other intermediate versions existed. We have no information on how many intermediate versions there were or what text they contained.
<2T> naturally sees this as an instance of the first introduction of Thrain I, the distant ancestor of Thror who first founded the realm of Erebor and was King there. He has no detailed history as yet, but he has been deliberately introduced into the story.
This is certainly the most natural conclusion to draw at this point, but it leaves a fundamental question unanswered: what was Tolkien's purpose in introducing Thrain I at this point? Usually when Tolkien makes references to events and people from the distant past he does so to create a sense of historical depth for the book. This is beautifully illustrated by the many references to Gondolin in The Hobbit, to choose one of many examples. But this lone mention of a King Thrain is very different than those other historical allusions: it is subtle to recognize him as a new historical figure at all, and failing to do so could easily detract from the book's sense of historical veracity.
To recognize the historical depth implied by King Thrain on the map, a reader would first have to notice the distinction between the name on the map and King Thror/Prince Thrain in the text, and take discrepancy seriously. Next, she would have to work out that this King Thrain must have come before King Thror. After that, she'd have to puzzle out the significance of the Dwarves who came to the Mountain in Thror's time as they relate to all this, since they were apparently led by King Thror: were they related to the earlier King Thrain? Did they supplant him?
This sort of puzzling out is certainly possible: Tolkien seems to have done something of the sort when he finally worked out the detailed history of Thorin's ancestors for Appendix A of LotR. But the point is that many or most readers (particularly children) would probably have given up somewhere along the way and concluded that the name on the map was simply mistaken. (The main text of the book certainly doesn't make it obvious that the earlier King Thrain existed.) Tolkien's wording in the prefatory note to the second edition suggest that he may have even received feedback from readers to that effect (see the entry for 14 Sep 1950 below).
And if a reader concluded that the map was wrong, that would be a blow to the story's "inner consistency of reality", exactly the opposite of the desired effect. In short, if Tolkien meant for this King Thrain to add to The Hobbit's historical depth, he was in this case uncharacteristically unsuccessful. That is all the more striking when you consider how easily Tolkien could have avoided this potential confusion. As Andy Cooke points out, he could have simply chosen a different name for the earlier Dwarf king: a label like "Here of old was Gror King under the Mountain" would have been completely unambiguous.
<1T> is unsatisfying at this point in a more straightforward way. In the text at this time, Thorin's grandfather was Thror, and his father Thrain had never been King. Thus, under the <1T> position, a reference on the map to "Thrain King under the Mountain" is inconsistent with the text and therefore an error on Tolkien's part. Somehow, Tolkien failed to catch this error, despite his careful attention to detail and great concern with Thror's Map. Now, as mentioned under "Summer 1936" above, Tolkien did mistakenly reverse Thror and Thrain once in the typescript of The Hobbit, so he could have done the same here. But I will admit that the <1T> position is looking a bit shaky at this point, even though it avoids concerns about the purpose of Thrain I in the story.
Given that uncertainty, this seems like a good place to first mention the support given to the <1T> view by two noted Tolkien scholars. In the first note to the chapter "A Thief in the Night" in [AH], Douglas Anderson comments in part that

"In the first edition of The Hobbit, Thorin's father Thrain was the only character of that name."

(The full context of this quote will be given in section 3 below, in the discussion of the Arkenstone.) This is essentially a direct statement of the <1T> position. And in [Treason], Christopher Tolkien explains that:

"When The Hobbit was first published it was Thrain son of Thror - the only Thrain at that time conceived of - who discovered the Arkenstone."

(This quote will also be put into its full context in section 3.) At least when he wrote [Treason], then, Christopher Tolkien also supported <1T>. The full context leading up to this quote centers on a discussion of the Thror/Thrain reversal and discusses the appearance of the name "Thrain" on Thror's Map specifically (that part of the quote will be given in full when discussing Tolkien's corrections to the proofs after 21 Feb 1937). Thus, in [Treason] Christopher Tolkien believed in <1T> despite this apparent conflict, and I will attempt to show why that is reasonable below.
For the record, [Treason] includes the disclaimer that

"the solution of this conundrum, if it can be found, belongs with the textual history of The Hobbit, and I shall not pursue it further."

So Christopher's statement here should not be taken as absolutely authoritative: he does not know the solution, and has not fully studied The Hobbit's history. Still, even when writing [Treason] he was more of an expert on these matters than anyone who has discussed this topic on the Tolkien Usenet newsgroups (among other things, he was present and often actively involved throughout the book's development), so his opinion should carry some weight. As far as I know, he has never corrected it or otherwise indicated that he has changed his view, despite a clear opportunity to do so in [Peoples] if he had wished.
30 Oct 1936:
The date-stamp on Rayner Unwin's report on The Hobbit, which mentions the maps.
10 Dec 1936:
Allen & Unwin tells Tolkien that they are having trouble with the five maps: they have too many colors, and the chalk shading is difficult to reproduce. They suggest that the Wilderland map and Thror's Map be printed in two colors as endpapers [Bib].
4 Jan 1937:
[Bib] states that sometime before this date Tolkien had redrawn both Thror's Map and the Wilderland map. Thror's map at this stage reads in part "Here of old was Thrain King under the Mountain". In Letter #9 of this date, he states his decision that the other three maps were not necessary.
[Bib] seems to indicate that Tolkien submitted the final version of Thror's map at this time, as described below. But [AH] claims that he "would have to redraw Thror's Map yet again, in a horizontal framework suitable for an endpaper". Meanwhile, [A&I] makes reference to only one redrawing after [A&I #85]: the final version of Thror's Map, [A&I #86], which is already in a horizontal format. However, the language in [A&I] suggests that this redrawing only happened after Tolkien had given up on inserting the map in the text, which [Bib] dates to 5 Feb.
As I see it, the lengthy negotiations about details of Thror's Map presented in [Bib] (and outlined below) suggest that Tolkien did submit a revision that was supposed to be final on this date (4 Jan). Because [A&I] make no mention of two "final" versions in different formats (vertical and horizontal) despite its close study of illustrations, I find it unlikely that an intermediate "final" version was drawn, despite the comment to that effect in the admittedly later [AH]. This is supported by the fact that [Bib] also makes no mention of a later "final" version, despite its very careful catalogue of correspondence on this topic. And Tolkien's tone by the end of his arguments about Thror's Map (see 5 Feb below) gives no hint of an intent to redraw it again, but rather of simple resignation. Thus, I lean toward [Bib]'s version of the map's history: the final version (in horizontal format) was submitted on 4 Jan 1937. In the end, though, this distinction is not a crucial one.
<2T> has no problems at this point: the final version of Thror's Map continues the mention of a King Thrain, just like the previous version. Whatever the reason was, it hasn't changed.
<1T> looks worse now: if the use of "Thrain" in [A&I #85] was simply an error, then Tolkien failed to notice and fix that error at this point despite the fact that he redrew the map from scratch and even changed the phrasing of the sentence mentioning Thrain. This is possible, particularly if Tolkien were focused on improving the technical execution of the map and not thinking too hard about its content, but it is admittedly unlikely.
An alternate possibility, which may or may not have merit, is that Tolkien decided at this point to change the genealogy to be Thorin - Thror - Thrain. As explained later (see 21 Feb), Tolkien did temporarily introduce this change throughout the proofs. In that case, the continued use of the label "Thror's Map" might just reflect a shift to name the map after its last owner rather than its first one (renaming the map could have confused the publisher, for example). Nevertheless, based on the history so far this explanation seems unlikely as well.
7 Jan 1937:
Allen & Unwin once again suggests that the two maps be printed as endpapers [Bib]. They also approve of the illustrations, despite a few technical difficulties.
17 Jan 1937:
Tolkien accepts the endpaper idea, at least for the Wilderland map, but continues to push for Thror's map to be inserted in the text to allow the see-through moon-letters [Bib].
23 Jan 1937:
Allen & Unwin asks Tolkien to send back Thror's Map, because "the blockmaker had misunderstood his instructions and left out the 'magic' of the runes" [Bib]. Throughout, they have tried to assure Tolkien that they will still be able to capture the runes' "magic" without the see-through trick (which would be impossible on an endpaper).
[Note: it is this long discussion, and particularly the emphasis on the difficulties that the production department was having in actually implementing the map, that mostly convince me that Tolkien did not submit yet another version after he gave up on a see-through insert on 5 Feb.]
That same day, Tolkien sends back the map, but presses on in his advocacy of the see-through effect rather than "putting the magic runes on the face of the chart, which rather spoils it (unless yr. reference to 'magic' refers to someting 'magical')". He even goes so far as to send a sample along with the map: "I have drawn a copy in reverse so that when printed they would read right way round held up to the light." [Bib]
1 Feb 1937:
Allen & Unwin insists that the runes will be on the front of the map [Bib].
5 Feb 1937:
Tolkien writes back, saying "Let the Production Dept. do as it will with the chart [Thror's Map]." [Bib]
I call special attention to Tolkien's tone above, which has a distinct air of "washing his hands of the whole affair". He is done fighting for his vision of how the map should appear, at least in the British edition.
20 Feb 1937:
Tolkien receives the first set of proofs for the book, and corrects them [Bib].
21 Feb 1937:
Tolkien writes to Allen & Unwin that he will retain all of the proofs until he has the complete set. He says that

"There are some minor discrepancies that come out in print and make it desirable to have the whole story together before passing for press. ...very few corrections would be necessary, but for defects in the copy itself, and unfortunate discrepancies in the text (and between the text and illustrations)."

It seems that this must refer at least in part to the reversal that Christopher Tolkien wrote about in [Treason]:

"Taum Santoski and John Rateliff have minutely examined the proofs and shown conclusively that instead of correcting this one error my father decided to extend Thorin - Thror - Thrain right through the book; but that having done so he then changed all the occcurrences back to Thorin - Thrain - Thror. It is hard to believe that this extraordinary concern was unconnected with the words on 'Thror's Map' in The Hobbit: 'Here of old was Thrain [CT's emphasis] King under the mountain'; but the solution of this conundrum, if it can be found, belongs with the textual history of The Hobbit, and I shall not pursue it further."

Again, to clarify what this says as compared to what both sides of this discussion have asserted in the past, the proofs had the reversed genealogy in just one place. Tolkien went through them from front to back and reversed it everywhere on the proofs, and then went back through and restored the original (and final) order.
<1T> finally begins to seem plausible here. At some point after submitting the manuscript, a <1T> advocate would say, Tolkien recognized that a discrepancy existed between the map and the text. This may not have happened until he was actually reading the proofs: note his comment that "some minor discrepancies... come out in print", and further that some of those discrepancies were "between the text and illustrations". Or it could have been while he was redrawing Thror's Map, as suggested above (under 4 Jan).
In any case, the most natural <1T> position would be that Tolkien recognized the error and decided to try to correct it. As noted above, he seems to have already become discouraged in his attempts to change the map (his earlier efforts were considerable, but unsuccessful). Thus, he decided to change the text to agree with the map (he made similar choices when writing LotR). Something along these lines seems to be what Christopher Tolkien was suggesting in the quote from [Treason] above.
It is not clear, though, why he then decided to change all the names back and re-introduce the inconsistency in the text. Perhaps he simply liked the sound of "Thorin son of Thrain son of Thror" better. Perhaps he found (or feared) that the name changes introduced further inconsistencies into the text that he didn't want to track down (a possible example is mentioned in section 3). Maybe he decided that he would try to change the map after all, but eventually realized (or was told) that doing so was no longer possible. In any case, the <1T> position on this point would seem to be that Tolkien chose not to embark on any serious changes to the story at this late stage, deciding that the error on the map was not critical. Nevertheless, the re-introduction of the inconsistency between the map and the text is a weakness of <1T>.
<2T> has a harder time here. If Tolkien had already consciously decided that there would be an older "Thrain I" who founded Erebor, what reason would he have for reversing the names at this point? The best explanation that I can think of would be that Tolkien had decided temporarily to remove that earlier Thrain from the history, and then after more thought decided to put him back in. It still isn't clear what purpose this older character serves in the narrative, as his existence must still be indirectly deduced.
Moreover, if the temporary decision to remove him was a response to that concern, why wouldn't Tolkien have made some change to the final text to explain the map after he decided to keep the character? That is, if he already imagined King Thrain as a distant ancestor of Thror, why didn't he make changes similar to those that eventually appeared in the third edition? As described below under 23 Mar, Tolkien's corrections to the proofs turned out to be "pretty heavy" anyway; it seems that a few more minor changes would not have made things much worse.

Once again, it seems only fair to point out that Michael Martinez has not accepted the textual history described above. In his defense of <2T> responding to the original version of this essay, he insists that "Tolkien did not mark the proofs to switch the names and then switch them back." He says that "the proofs replicated the name-switch" which was present throughout the book, presumably from the submitted typescript. As noted earlier, I remain very confident in my version of the history as stated above despite his objections.
For the record, if his objection were correct, then both submitted versions of Thror's Map ([A&I #85 and #86] would have been drawn during the period in which Tolkien had consciously chosen to reverse Thrain and Thror so that Thrain was the king. In that case, the most serious objection to <1T> vanishes: the map would never have been in disagreement with the book until it was too late to redraw it. The main evidence for <2T> in that picture would be Tolkien's re-reversal to make Thror the king, but <1T> could easily explain the resulting discrepancy with the map as a simple oversight made well after Tolkien had stopped thinking about the map at all. In short, I believe that the corrected textual history that I have advocated here weakens <1T> but not <2T>, so I would welcome any evidence that my version is mistaken. (Despite this, I still believe that <1T> remains convincingly stronger overall.)
24 Feb 1937:
Tolkien receives the remaining proofs of the book, along with the advice (perhaps prompted by his comments on defects to be fixed) that he should keep changes to a minimum and avoid changing the lengths of lines as much as possible [Bib].
~10 Mar 1937:
Tolkien returns all of the corrected proofs [Bib].
23 Mar 1937:
Allen & Unwin tells Tolkien that the endpapers (the maps) would be best presented in black and red. They also note that Tolkien's corrections to the proofs were "pretty heavy"; in the end, the book had to be reset despite Tolkien's attempts to match the size of the original [Bib].
Early Apr 1937:
Tolkien receives the revised proofs [Bib].
13 Apr 1937:
Tolkien returns the revised proofs with few corrections. He also submits redrawn runes for Thror's Map (he felt the existing ones were "ill-done (and not quite upright)"), but "it was not possible to substitute them for the earlier version" [Bib].
11 May 1937:
Allen & Unwin tells Tolkien that an American firm is interested in publishing The Hobbit, and that they would like to include color illustrations. A&U suggests that Tolkien should draw them himself [Bib].
13 May 1937:
Tolkien agrees to attempt the color illustrations. [Bib], also Letter #13.
28 May 1937:
Tolkien asks if the American edition might put Thror's Map in the text, as he had desired (they don't) [Bib]. This also includes the content of Letter #14, including his final agreement to make color illustrations when he has the time.
June 1937:
The Hobbit is printed, but release is delayed.
Mid-July 1937:
Tolkien draws four color illustrations, including "Conversation with Smaug" [Bib].
The (non-)impact of this drawing on the <1T>/<2T> argument is discussed at length in its own section below.
21 Sep 1937:
The Hobbit is published in England.
[much unrelated activity, including many batches of corrections]
21 Sep 1947:
Tolkien submits more corrections, as well as his full re-write of chapter 5 (meant only as a sample for comment) [Bib].
Tolkien writes draft T 4 of the "Tale of Years" for The Lord of the Rings. This includes the entry:

"2590 Thror the Dwarf (of Durin's race) founds the realm of Erebor (the Lonely Mountain) and becomes 'King under the Mountain'.[33]"

Christopher Tolkien's endnote [33] reads exactly as follows:

"'Thror ... founds the realm of Erebor': the history of Thror's ancestors had not yet emerged."

(All this comes from [Peoples].)
<2T> is now faced with a serious difficulty: why did Tolkien write that Thror founded Erebor if he had deliberately introduced the earlier King Thrain I? The best answer that I have seen or thought of is that he simply forgot about the first Thrain and the longer history of his kingdom. But that is surprising, considering the lengths to which he went adjusting the genealogy on the proofs (which, under the <2T> view, may well have involved the decision to remove him and then put him back in).
The <2T> position reads Christopher Tolkien's comment that "the history of Thror's ancestors had not yet emerged" as a reference to the detailed genealogy and family tree all the way from Moria to Thorin's generation in "Durin's Folk". In particular, this position does not believe that Christopher's comment here precludes a prior emergence of the part of that history involving Thrain I. <2T> also emphasizes that Christopher Tolkien had not done a careful study of The Hobbit's manuscripts when he wrote this comment, so his conclusions here could be mistaken in any case.
<1T> is perfectly content with this Tale of Years entry, and does not consider it to be a mistake of any sort. According to this position, Tolkien had not yet invented any ancestors of Thorin between Durin and Thror, nor any of their history. And Tolkien had always intended for Thror to be the founder of Erebor. He had not yet devoted any thought to "fixing" the mistake on the map.
Furthermore, <1T> reads Christopher's endnote as a statement about Thror "founding" the realm of Erebor in particular (the endnote quotes that specific statement for context). Thus, <1T> sees this as further explicit support of the <1T> position by Christopher Tolkien at the time that he wrote [Peoples]. Even though he has not done a detailed study of The Hobbit's history, his opinion is still at least as informed as that of anyone on the newsgroups.
26 Jul 1950:
Allen & Unwin sends Tolkien rough proofs of the second edition, incorporating his major changes to chapter 5 [Bib].
1 Aug 1950:
Tolkien responds with his surprise about the incorporation of his changes to chapter 5, and complains that if he had had warning he could have "shortened and tightened the revision", but accepts the change. [Bib], also Letter #128.
14 Sep 1950:
Tolkien sends "the briefest form of the prefatory note" for the new edition, explaining the two versions and presumably also explaining "Thrain" on the map. [Letter #130] The relevant part of the note reads:

"A final note may be added, on a point raised by several students of the lore of the period. On Thror's Map is written Here of old was Thrain King under the Mountain; yet Thrain was the son of Thror, the last King under the Mountain before the coming of the dragon. The Map, however, is not in error. Names are often repeated in dynasties, and the genealogies show that a distant ancestor of Thror was referred to, Thrain I, a fugitive from Moria, who first discovered the Lonely Mountain, Erebor, and ruled there for a while, before his people moved on to the remoter mountains of the North."

Interestingly, the endnote to L#130 giving the text of the prefatory note omits the pragraph about the map, but as no other record of its submission seems to exist I assume it was included with the rest.

Somewhere around this time (certainly between the earlier Tale of Years version T 4 and the next one T 5, written sometime before 22 Oct 1954), Tolkien writes the first draft of "Durin's Folk" for Appendix A of LotR (this draft is entitled "Of Durin's Line"). This text, published in [Peoples], contains the first known full discussion of Thrain I's history, including the first extended genealogical table (to which the note above may refer). Christopher comments on it as follows:

"In this text and its accompanying genealogical table... it is seen that an important advance had been made from the text T 4 of the Tale of Years, where it was told under the year 2590 that Thror 'founded the realm of Erebor' (p. 236): as I said in a note on that entry, 'the history of Thror's ancestors had not yet emerged'.[5] Here that history is present..."

Endnote [5] reads:

"The extension of the line beyond Thror appears to have had its starting-point in my father's explanation of the words on Thror's Map in The Hobbit ('Here of old was Thrain King under the Mountain') as referring not to Thrain son of Thror but to a remote ancestor also named Thrain: see VII.160."

(The reference is to passage in [Treason] cited earlier.)
<2T>'s understanding of all this is that in "Of Durin's Line", Tolkien "has finally organized and expanded the family (and history) which had emerged with the first edition of The Hobbit." No further changes to the text of The Hobbit were made, because Tolkien viewed it as being consistent with the earlier Thrain from the start, but the prefatory note was added for the benefit of readers who had not thought through the map's implications. And Christopher Tolkien's comment about the prefatory note simply reflects his guess that it was the beginning of that organizing process.
<1T>, on the other hand, sees this as the first emergence of the original Thrain in Tolkien's mind. Whenever it may have been that he first recognized the error on the map, he has finally taken the time to construct an explanation for it. However, as his focus at this time is primarily on the development of LotR, he does not take the time to rewrite the text of the book to give this new explanation but simply adds it as part of the prefatory note. (The lack of updates to the text itself might also have been due to his knowledge that the book was being only partially re-set, as reported in [Bib]. Large changes requiring re-setting of the early chapters could easily introduce many new textual errors, while Tolkien had spent years trying to eliminate the existing ones.)
As for Christopher Tolkien's comment in note [5] cited above, the <1T> position would emphasize that Christopher says not that the words on Thror's Map were the starting-point of the extension of Thorin's ancestry, but that his father's explanation of those words was the starting-point. Again, here in [Peoples] it does not sound like Christopher Tolkien sees the map as having intentionally introduced the earlier Thrain: he still seems to agree with <1T>.
19 Jul 1951:
The second edition of The Hobbit is published [Bib].
22 Oct 1954:
Allen & Unwin says that the Tale of Years is "probably too long for the appendices as it stands" [Peoples].
The version to which this refers is the typescript T 5, composed at some point well after T 4 (mentioned earlier under 1949-50) and incorporating various changes to it. One of those changes was to the 2590 entry, which now says that "Thror... comes south and re-establishes the realm of Erebor" instead of its former reading. In his discussion of "Of Durin's Line", Christopher Tolkien says that "While the history was at this stage the corrections and additions were made to T 4" [Peoples].
[again, much unrelated activity]
30 Nov 1964:
Allen & Unwin indicates that another firm was interested in publishing The Hobbit for schools; from the same printing, Allen & Unwin could then produce "a large number of copies for publication in Allen & Unwin's own paperback 'U Books' series." [Bib]
14 Jun 1965:
A deal for this paperback release has established by this point [Bib].
23 Jun 1965:
Tolkien accepts the idea of a paperback edition, but is concerned about the quailty of the text (due to an earlier paperback fiasco). As a result, he says that "I hope that I may be allowed some control over what is done." He goes on to explain that he has recently re-read The Hobbit and has planned some changes:

"since in effect a new edn. (for U. Books) is being re-set, I think the time has come to make a few alterations (in 6 places) which I have prepared: their object is to correct a small discrepancy; to make the note on Thrain, which was still necessary in the Puffin version, unnecessary; and to bring The Hobbit in line with The Lord of the Rings where needed."

(All this from [Bib].)
A potentially significant point for <1T> is Tolkien's comment that the note on Thrain was "necessary" in earlier versions of the book: it sounds like he did not think the text alone without the note was consistent. However, as <2T> supporters would be quick to point out, this may be a stronger reading of "necessary" than Tolkien intended.
24 Aug 1965:
Tolkien submits his changes for the third edition of The Hobbit [Bib]. Most of the relevant changes relate to the history of Erebor in Thror's time as related in chapter 1, and the original and revised passages read as follows (I have shown changes to the text in ALL CAPS for ease of recognition):

"Long ago in my grandfather's time some dwarves were driven out of the far North, and came with all their wealth and their tools to this Mountain on the map. There they mined and they tunnelled and they made huge halls and great workshops..."


"Long ago in my grandfather THROR's time OUR FAMILY WAS driven out of the far North, and came BACK with all their wealth and their tools to this Mountain on the map. IT HAD BEEN DISCOVERED BY MY FAR ANCESTOR, THRAIN THE OLD, BUT NOW they mined and they tunnelled and they made HUGER halls and GREATER workshops..."

"they grew immensely rich and famous, and my grandfather was King under the Mountain"


"they grew immensely rich and famous, and my grandfather was King under the Mountain AGAIN"

There were also a number of points where the actual names of Thorin's father and grandfather were added in this section. (These changes were reported in [AH].)
<1T> sees these changes as transforming the text from a description of the original settlement of Erebor to a description of its re-settlement. As compared to their revised counterparts, the original passages certainly seem to describe a "founding" rather than a "re-establishment". And even without comparison to the later version, the original wording of the second quote above seems to treat Thror's status as "King under the Mountain" as another result of the Dwarves' arrival. <1T> takes all this as evidence that Tolkien did not see the original language as being consistent with the history of Thrain I (at least not in a natural way). As described earlier, the <1T> position is that Tolkien only failed to make changes like these to the earlier edition due to a lack of time to spend on The Hobbit when it appeared. As can be seen from his comments under 23 Jun above, Tolkien certainly seemed to think that having the Thrain explanation in a prefatory note was an undesirable state of affairs, but he was hesitant to make substantial changes to the text unless the full text was being re-set anyway.
<2T>, as explained by Michael Martinez in his response to the first draft of this essay, asserts that "In the original conception, Thror's family was NOT driven out of the north." That is, the Dwarves who were driven out of the north came to Erebor to join Thror, whose family already lived there (my understanding of this is that they had probably lived there ever since King Thrain I founded the kingdom, but Michael has not yet confirmed that such was his intent). As for the original wording of that second quote, Michael does not see it as implying that Thror had just become King under the Mountain at this time: "The newfound wealth was linked to the period of his kingship. Nothing more." The changes shown above were made when the new history (as published in LotR) replaced this older one.
11 Nov 1965:
Allen & Unwin sends Tolkien proofs of the third edition [Bib].
10 Dec 1965:
Tolkien returns the corrected proofs after one more careful revision, along with the final version of the author's note at the beginning [Bib].
February 1966:
The third edition of The Hobbit is published in the UK (in paperback) [Bib].

That is pretty much the whole history of The Hobbit's publication that is relevant to this discussion, as gleaned from the multiple sources cited. I would summarize the pros and cons of the <1T> and <2T> positions as follows:

<1T> starts out at a disadvantage: it requires us to believe that Tolkien made a significant error by using the name Thrain on the map, and furthermore that after he became aware of that error, he eventually gave up on fixing it and let it remain unexplained until the note introduced for the second edition. But that is its only difficulty, at least based on the aspects of textual history discussed above. (Issues relating to an illustration and to the Arkenstone are discussed below.) <1T> is in direct agreement with all of Christopher Tolkien's comments on this history in "The History of Middle-earth", and fits naturally with the history of LotR's development as presented there. It is also the position taken by Douglas Anderson in [AH] and elsewhere.

<2T> does not require us to assume that Tolkien made a serious error on the map, but it does require us to believe that he invented the character of Thrain I for no effective purpose in the original story: a subtle and indirect historical reference like this is likely to be overlooked by most of the book's readers (particularly young children). Despite the concern that Tolkien showed about the genealogy in his revisions of the proofs, <2T> requires us to believe that Tolkien had completely forgotten that Dwarves had inhabited Erebor before Thror when he began to write the Tale of Years for LotR. It claims that Christopher Tolkien's comments on the matter in [Treason] were simply wrong, and disagrees with his comments in [Peoples] as well (or at least requires a very strained reading of them).

In my opinion, <1T> is the most natural solution to this puzzle. I will address some other arguments that have been brought up below.

2. The illustration "Conversation with Smaug"

As mentioned above, Tolkien created this illustration as one of the color pictures promised for the first American edition of The Hobbit (which Tolkien agreed to produce in Letter #14 on 28 May 1937). [Bib] indicates that the drawing was probably made in mid-July of 1937, so its details presumably illustrate Tolkien's view of the story at the time The Hobbit was published (he had long since signed off on the final proofs). He apparently submitted the illustration before the end of August (his final color illustration was submitted on 31 Aug).

The picture can be found as [A&I #133], and is also reproduced in black and white in [AH]. It has many interesting features, but the only one which might be relevant to this discussion is the inscription on a large pot of treasure at the bottom left. [Website note: I have included a small excerpt from the picture showing the pot in the section discussing the inscription below.] The inscription is written primarily in Tengwar, and [AH] translates it as follows: "gold th[portion obscured by ladder] Thrain / accursed be the thief". Not translated in [AH] are the two TH runes below the Tengwar inscription.

I will argue below that this picture contains no information whatsoever of relevance to the two Thrains debate. This is contrary to earlier arguments of Michael Martinez that the inscription supports the <2T> position. In particular, Michael asked "why should items in the hoard be named for Thrain and not for Thror?" He said that this evidence indicates that "Tolkien intended a reference to another King under the Mountain in both the map [Thror's Map] and the illustration [Conversation with Smaug]." [My notes.]

Thrain could have owned the cup

My counterargument has two parts. First, we know that the treasure in the hoard was not merely the treasure of Thror but the collected treasure of all Erebor. As Thorin says in Chapter 1, after killing all the Dwarves in the Mountain, Smaug

"took all their wealth for himself. Probably, for that is the dragons' way, he has piled it all up in a great heap far inside, and sleeps on it for a bed."

The illustration is in perfect agreement with this. Thus, if Thorin's father Thrain had any of his own gold stored in Erebor, it would have ended up in the main hoard and could easily appear in Tolkien's drawing. It seems quite likely that Thrain did have gold of his own: before the dragon came, "the poorest of us had money to spend and to lend", according to Thorin. And I can see no reason that Thrain should not label his treasure as his own or curse those who might steal it.

Michael has said that "it is a HUGE unsupportable leap to suggest that everyone would have been cursing gold cups in their own names." I do not see this as a leap at all. I know that I have written my name on many of my books, even before I was elected Prom King. Even if one were to claim that the average Dwarf could not or would not lay curses (which I think is already unsupported), Thrain was a prince and an heir of Durin. So already, it doesn't seem that Thrain's name on the pot of gold in the picture implies anything about his royal position.

The inscription names both Thror and Thrain

Closeup of the cup in Tolkien's illustration.

But I claim further that this entire argument is beside the point, because the pot of gold bears the names and initials of both Thror and Thrain. The initials are clear: the pot bears the same "TH TH" runes that Thror and Thrain used to sign Thror's Map. (In the final version of The Hobbit's prefatory note, Tolkien explains that the paired "TH TH" runes "are the initials of Thror and Thrain.") But I claim that the Tengwar inscription includes Thror's name as well.

My own literal transcription of the inscription is given below, in slightly "coded" form. Letters printed without other markings have meanings that everyone seems to agree upon. ('th' is of course represented by a single Tengwa.) A letter followed by '?' (e.g. "o?") is my reconstruction of a partially obscured Tengwa. A set of letters in braces (e.g. "{r|n}") lists all likely reconstructions of a single Tengwa in such a case. An underscore '_' denotes a totally obscured region which I believe must contain a Tengwa.

My transcription of the Tengwar is:

   gold th_o?{r|n} thrain
   akerst d{e|ie} {d|dh|the} th{e|ie}f

Word by word:

Only the 'o' is unfamiliar: the character here looks like a lowercase 'o' with a '>' on top. I accept Anderson's translation.
Going letter by letter:
  • The 'th' is clear.
  • The vertical post of the ladder obstructs considerable space, but as a lone 'th' has no meaning I assume there must be a character there. I believe that this hidden Tengwa must be fairly narrow.
  • The next character is partially obscured by the rungs of the ladder, but the bottom clearly looks like a lowercase 'o' and the top could be either an "acute accent" or the lower half of the '>' decoration mentioned above. The character is completely consistent with the 'o' Tengwa in "gold", and looks very different than all other known Tengwar.
  • The top of the final character is blocked by a rung, and the right side is cut off by the right post of the ladder. But we can see that the Tengwa has a short stem (not extended up or down) and that it is open on the bottom. The end curl of its first (or only) "bow" is also visible right next to the ladder's post. Looking at the Tengwar chart, that means that it can be only 'r' or 'n'.
Everyone seems to agree here. The 'ai' character looks like the 'a' from 'akerst' plus an "umlaut"; that umlaut is precisely the way that Tolkien distinguished 'a' and 'ai' in the Mode of Beleriand (according to Dan Smith's excellent Tengwar information pages).
Everyone seems to agree, this means "accursed". The 'a' Tengwa is unfamiliar to me (at least as a vowel), but this reading makes perfect sense and is used consistently in "thrain".
  • The first letter is partially obscured by the pole of the ladder, but we can clearly see its down-extended stem and the very beginning of a first bow. To the right of the pole, what looks like the edge of a second bow is visible, though that is less clear. Despite Anderson's transcription, I do not see any evidence that this Tengwa is closed at the bottom, which would seem to rule out his 'b'. (If what I have described as part of a second bow were really part of a second letter, that would certainly change this discussion; the first letter would then seem to be 't'.)
  • I would usually transcribe the second letter as 'e': it is an "acute accent" Tetha over a "short stem", and it clearly matches the vowel in the final word "thief". As I explain below, Tolkien's usual phonetic spelling would suggest that he simply meant a long 'e' sound here. However, "de" would be meaningless, and Tolkien's use of the consonants 'd' and 'b' was very consistent (though he could have just made a mistake). If Tolkien instead meant this symbol as an 'ie' to mimic the English spelling, this word would be "die", which makes much more sense. (One could imagine that in this inscription, the "accent" means 'e' and the "stem" means 'i', giving 'ie' when read from bottom to top just as the 'a'-umlaut read 'ai'.)
  • I am fairly certain that there is an inter-word space at this point.
This character clearly has a double bow open down, but its stem is obscured by the post, so it could be either 'd', 'dh', or Tolkien's shorthand for 'the' (with a double-extended stem, up and down). Since it seems to be on its own without vowels, "the" seems to be the most likely reading.
Everyone seems to agree that this means "thief", regardless of the exact intent of the vowel. I would usually read this as a phonetic spelling, where the vowel is simply a long 'e', but as mentioned above, there's some chance that Tolkien intended it to mean 'ie' to mimic English spelling. Either way, it works.

So putting this all together, my best guess at the full Tengwar inscription is:

   gold Thror Thrain
   accursed die [or "be"] the thief

I can see no other reasonable candidate reading of the second word given the constraints above. (In particular, it could not be "the" followed by something else, because the first letter is clearly 'th', not 'dh' or the 'the' shorthand.) And putting "Thror" there along with "Thrain" fits perfectly with the "TH TH" runes below the Tengwar (a pairing we only see used as their initials), as it really only makes sense for both names to be present in both places.

Thus, I claim that this picture tells us absolutely nothing about the two Thrains debate. It simply illustrates a fact that everyone agrees upon: that when The Hobbit was published, Tolkien believed that Thror and Thrain together were very wealthy before Smaug drove them out of Erebor. For the record, Michael Martinez (the primary advocate of <2T>) conceded this point in his response to the first draft of this essay.

3. Points related to the Arkenstone

A final point that has been raised in the debate over the number of Thrains originally intended in The Hobbit centers on the name "the Arkenstone of Thrain". That name was associated with the stone without alteration from the first edition of the book to the last (and apparently throughout the final typescript and the proofs: Michael Martinez informs us that Douglas Anderson never saw the name "Arkenstone of Thror" at any stage of revision, even during the Thrain/Thror reversal). It first appears in the chapter "Inside Information", where the dwarves discuss the treasure waiting below:

"But fairest of all was the great white gem, which the dwarves had found beneath the roots of the Mountain, the Heart of the Mountain, the Arkenstone of Thrain."

So what is the significance of this name? It seems most likely that the Arkenstone is called "the Arkenstone of Thrain" because it was discovered by someone named Thrain. (It could also potentially have been given the name of a particularly early or notable owner, I suppose, or of the person who "cut and fashioned" it). And indeed, Appendix A of LotR says of Thrain I that "In Erebor he found the great jewel, the Arkenstone". So far, so good, at least as far as the revised editions of the book are concerned.

At this point, <2T> is very happy: in this view, the Arkenstone always bore the name of Thrain I, its original discoverer (as made explicit in Appendix A). The name "the Arkenstone of Thrain" would obviously not depend on the names of Thorin's father and grandfather, so it is no surprise at all that it was not changed when Tolkien reversed their names on the proofs. Thus, this constitutes an instance where King Thrain I was mentioned by name in the original text of the book.

On the other hand, <1T> is not particularly bothered by this observation either (not yet, anyway). Tolkien may have simply liked the name "the Arkenstone of Thrain", and not been overly concerned about whether it had been found by Thorin's father or by his grandfather. <1T> does not see any reason to interpret this "Thrain" as a character other than Thorin's father (or grandfather).

The phrases "my father's" and "of my father"

But that is not the whole story. Thorin also says more than once that the Arkenstone belonged to "his father" specifically. In "The Clouds Burst", we read:

"'That stone was my father's, and is mine,' he [Thorin] said. 'Why should I purchase my own?' But wonder overcame him and he added: 'But how came you by the heirloom of my house [...]?'"

And earlier, at the beginning of "A Thief in the Night", we read that

"Thorin spoke of the Arkenstone of Thrain, and bade them eagerly to look for it in every corner.

"'For the Arkenstone of my father,'[1] he said, 'is worth more than a river of gold in itself, and to me it is beyond price. That stone of all the treasure I name unto myself, and I will be avenged on anyone who finds it and withholds it.'"

The parallel structure of the two references to the Arkenstone here certainly indicates that "my father" refers to "Thrain". Note [1] in [AH] refers to Douglas Anderson's commentary on this passage:

"[1] A slight confusion remains evident in the text here. In the first edition of The Hobbit, Thorin's father Thrain was the only character of that name. However, on Thror's Map it states 'Here of old was Thrain King under the Mountain.' Thorin's father Thrain was not the King under the Mountain when the dragon came; Thrain's father, Thror, was then the King under the Mountain. In the 1951 second edition of The Hobbit, Tolkien added an introductory note including the statement [...] that 'the Map, however, is not in error. [...]' This part of the introductory note was made unnecessary in 1966 by some revisions to the text, including the introduction of Thorin's far ancestor Thrain the Old on page 54.

"In section III ('Durin's Folk') of Appendix A of The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien wrote of Thrain the Old (Thrain I): 'In Erebor he found the great jewel, the Arkenstone, Heart of the Mountain.' On page 287 of The Hobbit, the Arkenstone is referred to as 'the Heart of the Mountain, the Arkenstone of Thrain.' Here, Thorin speaks of 'the Arkenstone of Thrain' and 'the Arkenstone of my father,' and on page 334 Thorin says 'that stone was my father's.' Surely in naming the stone 'the Arkenstone of Thrain,' Tolkien would have meant the Thrain who discovered it. Originally, the discoverer was Thorin's father, but when Tolkien came to expand the Dwarvish ancestry he seems to have missed the significance here of Thorin describing the stone as being his father's. By rights, at the time of the coming of the dragon, the stone belonged not th Thrain but to Thror, Thrain's father, then King under the Mountain."

Anderson's second sentence here seems to take <1T> as a foregone conclusion (he certainly doesn't spend any time defending or explaining his statement of that position), and the "slight confusion" here does not seem to have shaken his belief. Christopher Tolkien's discussion of this issue in [Treason] is very similar:

"The history of Thrain the First, fugitive from Moria, first King under the Mountain, and discoverer of the Arkenstone, was given in The Lord of the Rings, Appendix A (III), Durin's Folk; and doubtless the prefatory note in the 1951 edition and the passage in Appendix A were closely related. But this was the product of development in the history of the Dwarves that came in with The Lord of the Rings (and indeed the need to explain the words on the map 'Here of old was thrain King under the Mountain' evidently played a part in that development). When The Hobbit was first published it was Thrain son of Thror - the only Thrain at that time conceived of - who discovered the Arkenstone."

This closely parallels Anderson's comments above, and like Anderson, Christopher Tolkien unquestionably takes the <1T> perspective. But the difficulty that Anderson has pointed out certainly affects the <1T>/<2T> debate.

Implications for the debate

So what should we make of these statements that the Arkenstone belonged to Thorin's father? The <1T> position has been more or less summarized above: when he first wrote the story, Tolkien meant for Thorin's father Thrain to have found the Arkenstone, and he probably just "missed the significance" of Thorin's use of "my father" in this context when he invented the earlier Thrain for the second edition. (A reader particularly determined to interpret the texts in a consistent way might suggest that Thror had already passed down the Arkenstone to his son Thrain before the dragon came, but such speculations are not particularly important for this debate.) It is unfortunate that <1T> must again claim that Tolkien repeatedly overlooked a mistake, but at least this is a relatively subtle one.

As for the <2T> position, it is faced with the same challenge here, only more so: the apparent conflict between the early discoverer of the stone and the phrase "my father" is present from the very first published version of the text (as opposed to the <1T> case, where this conflict was only introduced years later when Appendix A to LotR was written).

The explanation, according to <2T>, is that there was no difficulty at all, because of the sense in which Thorin meant the word "father". In the passage from "The Clouds Burst" quoted above, Thorin calls the Arkenstone "the heirloom of my house", and <2T> asserts that this would be an odd term to use of an artifact found by one's father: "heirloom" most implies something passed down through the generations. Thus, <2T> explains, "father" must have a more general meaning here: any male ancestor. There is no mistake, and the Arkenstone's "Thrain" was always Thrain I. (For the record, <1T> could counter that a gem as unique and remarkable as the Arkenstone could have been recognized as the greatest artifact possessed Thrain's house as soon as it was found; the use of "heirloom" in such a case would be a bit unusual but not out of the question.)

Is this an accepted meaning for "father"? Yes, it is. The Oxford English Dictionary lists the following as definition 2. of "father":

"A male ancestor more remote than a parent, esp. the founder of a race or family, a forefather, progenitor. In pl. ancestors, forefathers."

So far, the suggestion of <2T> is supported. In particular, the plural form "fathers" does refer to ancestors or forefathers in general. But <1T> is quick to note the clarification here of exactly what sort of "male ancestor more remote than a parent" is usually called a "father" in the singular: "the founder of a race or family". The few cases where Tolkien's characters use "father" in the singular to refer to an ancestor other than an actual parent generally back this up. For example, Durin is called "father of the fathers" of the Longbeards, and he is indeed the founder of their race.

But none of this addresses the specific contexts in which Thorin uses "father" in discussing the Arkenstone: the possessives "my father's" or "of my father". Most <1T> supporters feel that while "father" can certainly refer to a remote ancestor in general, these phrases always imply the more specific meaning (at least when "father" refers to an ancestor at all). I know of no example written by Tolkien or anyone else where a person uses the possessive phrases "of my father" or "my father's" in reference to an ancestor more remote than their actual parent, at least without additional clarification of that meaning. If it does exist, such usage must be exceedingly rare. <2T> clearly disagrees with this, but I have not seen its supporters provide any examples. (Obviously we must exclude Thorin's words about the Arkenstone when searching for such examples, as their meaning is what we are trying to deduce. To include them at this point as evidence for either meaning would be circular reasoning.)

Finally, <2T> cites a passage from an intermediate draft of "Durin's Folk" in Appendix A of LotR that was published in [Peoples]. That passage speaks of the Dwarves' fierce devotion to their children, and goes on to say that

"The same is true of the attitude of children to parents. For an injury to a father a Dwarf may spend a life-time in achieving revenge. Since the 'kings' or heads of lines are regarded as 'parents' of the whole group, it will be understood how it was that the whole of Durin's Race gathered and marshalled itself to avenge Thror."

This does support the notion that Thorin might think of an earlier king of his people as a "father". But even here (in a text that was never in the end published) Tolkien is careful to put "parents" in quotes: a formal distinction between literal and figurative parents is maintained. Thorin does not give any such indication that he is not speaking of his literal father, and I know of no example of a Dwarf referring to his king as "my father" when that was not literally true. Nevertheless, assuming Tolkien did not change his mind on this point when he removed it from Appendix A, this could be a reasonable context for Thorin's words.

Overall impact of these considerations

So where does this leave Thorin's comments about Thrain? Thrain I was certainly a remote ancestor, but he was in no sense "the founder of a race or family". He was merely the founder of a kingdom, one of many intermediate members of a family with a very long history whose ultimate progenetor Durin was widely known (and revered by Thorin). <2T> requires us to accept that Tolkien had Thorin use the phrase "my father" in a rather unusual way. If that is accepted, it is very plausible that Thorin may have been referring to Thrain I even in the first edition.

As for <1T>, if <2T>'s non-standard usage of "my father" were accepted, all of the difficulties raised by Anderson and Christopher Tolkien would be resolved as well. (There wouldn't even have been any conflict during the Thrain/Thror reversal period, as Thorin could have been referring to his then-grandfather Thrain as "my father".) So at worst ("worst" for <1T>), Thorin's phrase "the Arkenstone of my father" gives no net evidence in favor of either side in this debate. The less willing one is to accept this use of "my father", the less one will accept <2T>'s claim that Thorin was referring to King Thrain I as discoverer of the Arkenstone in the original text.


There are reasons to favor and to doubt both the <1T> and <2T> positions. Both require us to conclude that Tolkien made multiple mistakes when writing The Hobbit. But where <1T> indicates mistakes of a mostly "technical" nature (confusing two names or overlooking a subtle implication of a phrase), <2T> indicates mistakes that are much more fundamental (introducing a character with no purpose or making very strange use of the English language). Mistakes like those required by <1T> are not uncommon in Tolkien's work, but mistakes like those required by <2T> are very rare for him indeed.

So what evidence remains for <2T>? My discussion of "Conversation with Smaug" has shown that it provides no information on this topic. My discussion of Thorin's references to "the Arkenstone of my father" has shown that it is either neutral on this issue or favors <1T>. The reference to the Arkenstone as an "heirloom" favors <2T>, but only slightly. In the end, the only serious evidence for <2T> is "Thrain King under the Mountain" on the map. And <2T> has no satisfying explanation for why Tolkien would introduce a historical character in such a subtle and confusing way, nor for why he later wrote explicitly that Thror founded the realm of Erebor.

Moreover, both Christopher Tolkien and Douglas Anderson have explicitly asserted the <1T> position in their published discussions of The Hobbit and its history. They have almost certainly studied that history in more detail than anyone else (with the possible exceptions of Taum Santoski and John Rateliff, whose opinions on the matter have not yet been publicized). And their words do not even treat this as a point of contention: they both speak of <1T> as a simple fact. (And in discussion of this essay, Michael Martinez reports that even after he wrote to Anderson about these issues, "his is an authoritative voice which remains in the <1T> camp.")

Thus, I remain firmly convinced of the <1T> position: I believe that when The Hobbit was first published, Tolkien had only imagined one ancestor of Thorin's named Thrain.

This essay copyright © 2004 by Steuard Jensen.
Up to my Tolkien Essays page.
Up to The Tolkien Meta-FAQ.
Visit The World of Steuard Jensen.
Posted on the web by Steuard Jensen.

Custom Search
  Advanced Group Search
Newsgroup info: