V. F. Enemies

  1. What was the relationship between Orcs and Goblins?

    [Question III.B.16 of the Tolkien Newsgroups FAQ contains additional discussion of this issue.]

    They are different names for the same race of creatures. Of the two, "Orc" is the correct one. This has been a matter of widespread debate and misunderstanding, mostly resulting from the usage in The Hobbit (Tolkien had changed his mind about it by LotR but the confusion in the earlier book was made worse by inconsistent backwards modifications). There are a couple of statements in The Hobbit which, if taken literally, suggest that Orcs are a subset of goblins. If we are to believe the indications from all other areas of Tolkien's writing, this is not correct. These are: some fairly clear statements in letters, the evolution of his standard terminology (see next paragraph), and the actual usage in LotR, all of which suggest that "Orc" was the true name of the race. (The pedigrees in Tolkien: The Illustrated Encyclopedia are thoroughly inaccurate and undependable.)

    What happened was this. The creatures so referred to were invented along with the rest of Tolkien's subcreation during the writing of the Book of Lost Tales (the "pre-Silmarillion"). His usage in the early writing is somewhat varied but the movement is away from "goblin" and towards "orc". It was part of a general trend away from the terminology of traditional folklore (he felt that the familiar words would call up the wrong associations in the readers' minds, since his creations were quite different in specific ways). For the same general reasons he began calling the Deep Elves "Noldor" rather than "Gnomes", and avoided "Faerie" altogether. (On the other hand, he was stuck with "Wizards", an "imperfect" translation of Istari ('the Wise'), "Elves", and "Dwarves"; he did say once that he would have preferred "dwarrow", which, so he said, was more historically and linguistically correct, if he'd thought of it in time ...)

    In The Hobbit, which originally was unconnected with the Silmarillion, he used the familiar term "goblin" for the benefit of modern readers. By the time of LotR, however, he'd decided that "goblin" wouldn't do -- Orcs were not storybook goblins (see above). (No doubt he also felt that "goblin", being Romance-derived, had no place in a work based so much on Anglo-Saxon and Northern traditions in general.) Thus, in LotR, the proper name of the race is "Orcs" (capital "O"), and that name is found in the index along with Ents, Men, etc., while "goblin" is not in the index at all. There are a handful of examples of "goblin" being used (always with a small "g") but it seems in these cases to be a kind of slang for Orcs.

    Tolkien's explanation inside the story was that the "true" name of the creatures was Orc (an anglicized version of Sindarin Orch, pl. Yrch). As the "translator" of the ancient manuscripts, he "substituted" "Goblin" for "Orch" when he translated Bilbo's diary, but for The Red Book he reverted to a form of the ancient word.

    [The actual source of the word "orc" is Beowulf: "orc-nass", translated as "death-corpses". It has nothing to do with cetaceans.]

V. G. Miscellaneous

  1. Who or what was Tom Bombadil?

    [Question III.B.3 of the Tolkien Newsgroups FAQ contains additional discussion of this issue. A detailed discussion can be found in my essay, "What is Tom Bombadil?"]

    This question has been a widely debated, sometimes far too vehemently. Part of the difficulty is the complexity of Tom's literary history. Tom was originally a doll (with blue jacket and yellow boots) owned by Tolkien's son Michael. The doll inspired a story fragment, such as he often invented for his children's amusement. That fragment was in turn the basis for the poem "The Adventures of Tom Bombadil", published in 1933, which also introduced Goldberry, the barrow wights, and Old Man Willow (the poem was the source of the events in Chapters 6 through 8 of Book I). In a contemporary letter (1937) Tolkien explained that Tom was meant to represent 'the spirit of the (vanishing) Oxford and Berkshire countryside'. (Letters, no 19)

    Tolkien introduced Tom into LotR at a very early stage, when he still thought of it as a sequel to The Hobbit, as opposed to The Silmarillion (see LessFAQ, Tolkien, 1). Tom fit the original (slightly childish) tone of the early chapters (which resembled that of The Hobbit), but as the story progressed it became higher in tone and darker in nature. Tolkien later claimed that he left Tom in he decided that however portrayed Tom provided a necessary ingredient (see last paragraph). Some very cogent reasons are produced in a couple of wonderful letters (Letters, nos 144 & 153).

    As to Tom's nature, there are several schools of thought.

    1. He was a Maia (the most common notion). The reasoning here is plain: given the Middle-earth cast of characters as we know it, this is the most convenient pigeonhole in which to place him (and Goldberry as well) (most of the other individuals in LotR with "mysterious" origins: Gandalf, Sauron, Wizards, and Balrogs did in fact turn out to be Maiar).
    2. He was Iluvatar. The only support for this notion is on theological grounds: some have interpreted Goldberry's statement to Frodo (F: "Who is Tom Bombadil?" G: "He is.") as a form of the Christian "I am that am", which really could suggest the Creator. Tolkien rejected this interpretation quite firmly.
    3. T.A. Shippey (in The Road to Middle-earth) and others have suggested that Tom is a one-of-a-kind type. This notion received indirect support from Tolkien himself: "As a story, I think it is good that there should be a lot of things unexplained (especially if an explanation actually exists); ... And even in a mythical Age there must be some enigmas, as there always are. Tom Bombadil is one (intentionally)." (Letters, p. 174) There are scattered references to other entities which seem to fall outside the usual picture.

    Whichever of these is correct, Tom's function inside the story was evidently to demonstrate a particular attitude towards control and power. "The story is cast in terms of a good side, and a bad side, beauty against ruthless ugliness, tyranny against kingship, moderated freedom against compulsion that has long lost any object save mere power, and so on; but both sides in some degree, conservative or destructive, want a measure of control. But if you have, as it were taken 'a vow of poverty', renounced control, and take delight in things for themselves without reference to yourself, watching, observing, and to some extent knowing, then the question of the rights and wrongs of power and control might become utterly meaningless to you, and the means of power quite valueless." (Letters, p. 178). Tom represented "Botany and Zoology (as sciences) and Poetry as opposed to Cattle-breeding and Agriculture and practicality." (Letters, p. 179).

  2. What became of the Entwives?

    No definite answer was given to this question within the story. However, Tolkien did comment on the matter in two letters, and while he was careful to say "I think" and "I do not know", nevertheless the tone of these comments was on the whole pessimistic. Moreover, he doesn't seem to have changed his mind over time. The following was written in 1954 (in fact before the publication of LotR):

    What happened to them is not resolved in this book. ... I think that in fact the Entwives had disappeared for good, being destroyed with their gardens in the War of the Last Alliance (Second Age 3429-3441) when Sauron pursued a scorched earth policy and burned their land against the advance of the Allies down the Anduin. They survived only in the 'agriculture' transmitted to Men (and Hobbits). Some, of course, may have fled east, or even have become enslaved: tyrants even in such tales must have an economic and agricultural background to their soldiers and metal-workers. If any survived so, they would indeed be far estranged from the Ents, and any rapprochement would be difficult -- unless experience of industrialized and militarized agriculture had made them a little more anarchic. I hope so. I don't know.
    Letters, 179 (#144)

    Note that the above reference to a "scorched earth policy" by Sauron makes the destruction of the Entwives' land seem a much more serious and deliberate affair than was apparent from the main story, in which Treebeard merely said that "war had passed over it" (TT, 79 (III, 4)).

    The following was written in 1972, the last year of Tolkien's life:

    As for the Entwives: I do not know. ... But I think in TT, 80-81 it is plain that there would be for the Ents no re-union in 'history' -- but Ents and their wives being rational creatures would find some 'earthly paradise' until the end of this world: beyond which the wisdom neither of Elves nor Ents could see. Though maybe they shared the hope of Aragorn that they were 'not bound for ever to the circles of the world and beyond them is more than memory.' ....
    Letters, 419 (#338)

    [ The reference to TT 80-81 is to the song of the Ent and the Ent-wife, as recited to Merry and Pippin by Treebeard; the speech by Aragorn which Tolkien quotes is from RK, 344 (Appendix A). ]

    While the above comments do not sound hopeful, there nevertheless remains the unresolved mystery of the conversation between Sam Gamgee and Ted Sandyman in The Green Dragon. It took place during the second chapter of FR and has been pointed to by many as possible evidence of the Entwives' survival:

    'All right', said Sam, laughing with the rest. 'But what about these Tree-men, these giants, as you might call them? They do say that one bigger than a tree was seen up away beyond the North Moors not long back.'

    'Who's they?'

    'My cousin Hal for one. He works for Mr. Boffin at Overhill and goes up to the Northfarthing for the hunting. He saw one.'

    'Says he did, perhaps. Your Hal's always saying that he's seen things; and maybe he sees things that ain't there.'

    'But this one was as big as an elm tree, and walking -- walking seven yards to a stride, if it was an inch.'

    'Then I bet it wasn't an inch. What he saw was an elm tree, as like as not.'

    'But this one was walking, I tell you; and there ain't no elm tree on the North Moors.'

    'Then Hal can't have seen one', said Ted.

    FR 53-54 (I, 2)

    Now, this conversation takes place early in the story, when its tone was still the "children's story" ambiance of The Hobbit (see LessFAQ, Tolkien, 1). When it is first read the natural reaction is to accept it as "more of the same" (i.e. another miscellaneous "fairy-story" matter). However, once one has learned about the Ents it is impossible to reread it without thinking of them. This impression is strengthened by Treebeard's own words to Merry and Pippin:

    He made them describe the Shire and its country over and over again. He said an odd thing at this point. 'You never see any, hm, any Ents round there, do you?' he asked. 'Well, not Ents, Entwives I should really say.'

    'Entwives?' said Pippin. 'Are they like you at all?'

    'Yes, hm, well no: I do not really know now', said Treebeard thoughtfully. 'But they would like your country, so I just wondered.'

    TT, 75 (III, 4)

    Taken together, these two conversations make the notion that what Halfast saw was an Entwife seem at least plausible. However, as far as can be determined Tolkien never explicitly connected the matter with the Entwives, indeed never mentioned it at all. So we are left to speculate. (The fact that a creature described as being "as big as an elm tree" couldn't be an Ent doesn't prove anything one way or the other. It could indicate that the story is just a fabrication by a fanciful hobbit, but it is equally possible that a fourteen foot tall Ent might look gigantic to an unprepared hobbit and that the story was exaggerated in the telling.)

    Nor is textual analysis helpful. Tolkien himself, in a discussion of his methods of invention, mentioned that the Treebeard adventure was wholly unplanned until he came to that place in the story:

    I have long ceased to invent ... : I wait till I seem to know what really happened. Or till it writes itself. Thus, though I knew for years that Frodo would run into a tree-adventure somewhere far down the Great River, I have no recollection of inventing Ents. I came at last to the point, and wrote the 'Treebeard' chapter without any recollection of any previous thought: just as it now is. And then I saw that, of course, it had not happened to Frodo at all.
    Letters, 231 (#180)

    The rough drafts in HoMe confirm that Sam and Ted's conversation was composed long before Ents ever entered the story (Return of the Shadow, 253-254; Treason, 411-414). Thus, Tolkien could not have had them in mind when he wrote it, and it must indeed have originally been a random, vaguely fantastic element. On the other hand, as he said of Tom Bombadil, who also entered the story early: "I would not have left him in if he did not have some kind of function." (Letters, 178) The implication is clear: everything in the early chapters which was allowed to remain was left in for a reason. When he did so with the Sam/Ted conversation he must have known how suggestive it would be. But how it fits in with the darker speculations expressed in his letters is not clear (unless he changed his mind later).

    This may be a case of Tolkien's emotions being in conflict with his thoughts. T.A. Shippey has noted that "he was in minor matters soft-hearted" (RtMe, 173). (Thus, Bill the pony escapes, Shadowfax is allowed to go into the West with Gandalf, and in the late-written narratives of UT Isildur is shown using the Ring far more reluctantly than the Council of Elrond would suggest (UT, 271-285) and a way is contrived so that Galadriel might be absolved from all guilt in the crimes of Feanor (UT, 231-233)). It may be that, lover of trees that he was, Tolkien wished to preserve at least the hope that the Ents and Entwives might find each other and the race continue. But the unwelcome conclusions from what he elsewhere called "the logic of the story" must have proven inescapable.

     Letters, 178-179 (# 144), 231 (#180),
              419 (#338);
     FR 53-54 (I, 2);
     TT, 75 (III, 4), 79 (III, 4), 80-81 (III,4);
     RK, 344 (Appendix A, I, v, "The Tale of
         Aragorn and Arwen");
     UT, 271-285 (Three, I), 231-233 (Two, IV);
     Return of the Shadow (HoMe VI), 253-254 (Second
                                     Phase, XV);
     The Treason of Isengard, 411-414 (Ch XXII);
     RtMe, 173 (7, "The Dangers of Going on").

    Contributors: WDBL, Paul Adams, Mark Gordon

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