Lord of the Rings is chock full of angels (and other things you didn’t know even if you read the books)

How many times have you seen the Lord of the Rings movies? Like, a million? Okay, you’ve read it, too. But there’s always something new to discover and hidden depths to explore, which is one of the reasons it inspires such an obsessive fan base. Here are a few things to keep in mind the next time you experience the books or films:

Gandalf illustration

Gandalf is an angel (and so is Sauron)

In most fantasy tales, wizards are like that one guy you know who never wanted to get a real job, so he stayed in school forever until he had double PhDs in French and Chinese Literature, except this literature happens to be printed on parchment of human skin and contains ancient incantations to tear reality asunder and release unspeakable evils upon the world.

So more like Austrian economics

So, more like Austrian economics.

Which is to say, a wizard is usually just some dude with a shit-ton of esoteric knowledge and a collection of polyester robes and weird hats.

NOT cosplay. I swear.

Not cosplay. I swear.

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But Tolkien spelled Wizard with a capital “W,” which means it’s a race of people and not a description, a la “Dwarf” (Gimli) versus “dwarf” (Tyrion Lannister). Failing to distinguish between capital and lower case letters is what killed the Chief of Ringwraiths in The Return of the King, who was assured by some wiseass oracle that “not by the hand of man will you fall,” so it’s pretty damn important to keep an eye on these things in Middle-earth.

Believe it or not, grammar nazis are not actually servants of Mordor

Believe it or not, grammar nazis are not actually servants of Mordor.

No amount of schooling will ever turn a Man or Elf into a Wizard, so where do they come from? Well, when the world was first created, a handful of archangels decided to show up and help make things nice and green and lovely for all the races of people who would eventually live there. But archangels are exceedingly lazy, so they brought along hundreds of minor angels to do all the work for them.

Various of these minor angels were seduced into evil by Satan himself (called Morgoth on Middle-earth), and one of them was Sauron. Another was the Balrog. A third one gave birth to the giant spider that Gollum hoped would eat Frodo and Sam.

The twelve archangels weren’t exactly cool with all these minor angels getting seduced to the Dark Side, but they were, as I said, lazy. So rather than get off their asses, they sent five more minor angels into Middle-earth on a mission to combat their fallen brethren through the power of kickass heavenly magic good advice. These were the Wizards.

Yes, the reason that Gandalf barely uses any magic spells is because he’s strictly there as a consultant.

"Nazgu-- Nozga-- Not-gonna-reign-on-Middle-earth-anymore"

“Nazgul– Nozgal– Not-gonna-reign-on-Middle-earth-anymore!”

It’s because he’s on Middle-earth to give kindly advice that Gandalf chooses to look like an old man. Being an angel, he has no actual bodily form. He gets to pick one and wear it “like clothing.”

Maybe he should have got that thing pressed and ironed before putting it on

Maybe he should have got that thing pressed and ironed before putting it on.

What would happen if Gandalf lost patience with all this gentle nudging and prodding and decided instead to exercise his full angelic powers to set things right on Middle-earth? Just ask Saruman. Inevitably, it ends in corruption. In fact, Gandalf is the only one of the Wizards who holds true to the mission to the very end.

Dammit, archangels, quit outsourcing your work!

Dammit, archangels, quit outsourcing your work!

Aragorn is descended from the survivors of Atlantis (so is Boromir)

Back when Satan/Morgoth himself kept a time-share on Middle-earth (a necessity, really, when you’re here on spring break every year trying to seduce all the minor angels), some of the early humans decided to lend the archangels a hand in expelling him into the Void, in the much same way a toddler “helps” decorate a Christmas tree.

If the worst thing that happens is they drink the Christmas tree water, it's a success.

If the worst thing that happens is they drink the Christmas tree water, it’s a success.

The archangels thought this was so darn cute that they rewarded this particular group of humans with their very own island nation almost—but not quite—in sight of the Undying Lands, where the angels live in eternal peace and joy. This was kind of a dick move, as it turns out. Imagine if angels told you that you could listen through the wall but never actually join their Everlasting Angelic Orgy With Nonstop Orgasms Brought On By The Celebrity Of Your Choice—which, by the way, the Elves were totally invited to. Wouldn’t that piss you off after a while?

Meanwhile, in the Undying Lands…

The jealous humans turned out to be such bad neighbors that the archangels drowned the shit out of them and sank the entire island into the ocean. Thus, the most advanced civilization in the world was lost, and even though it was called Numenor and not Atlantis, Tolkien totally expected us to get the reference.

However, there were a handful of survivors. These ragged few escaped to Middle-earth and established the kingdom of Gondor. And the “blood of Numenor ran true” in the veins of Aragorn, which is why he’s 88 years old [!] at the time of The Lord of the Rings but only looks 35.

Aquaman Aragorn

Cousins!

 

It’s okay to kill Orcs indiscriminately because they don’t have souls (and neither do Trolls)

Remember that touching speech Gandalf gives about “not being too quick to deal out death and judgment” and sparing the life of Gollum out of pity despite his wickedness? Why doesn’t that same mercy apply to Orcs? Surely they can’t all be hateful, violent, untrustworthy creatures from the day they’re born.

Actually, yes, they can. Every last one of them.

Like the Belgians.

Like the Belgians.

If you think that sounds like some racist-ass bullshit, good on you. Here in the real world, that’s a horribly disgusting attitude, but—and I hate to break this to you—Middle-earth ain’t real. Tolkien got to decide exactly which races got souls and which didn’t.

Some more than others.

Take the Dwarves, for example. Unlike the races of Elves and Men, which were created by God Himself, the Dwarves were the work of one of those lazy archangels once again trying to get someone else to do all his work for him. According to The Silmarillion, which is pretty much the Old Testament of Middle-earth, the first attempt at Dwarf-making was a big flop, because only God and not the archangels could imbue a species with independence/consciousness/a soul. The original Seven Dwarves (not those seven dwarfs) had no will of their own and only acted on their creator’s desires. Later, God blessed these Dwarves and their descendants with souls like his own creations: Elves and Men.

Not surprisingly, the same did not happen when Satan/Morgoth got bored one day and decided, “Hey, I could make my own race of people, too!” The Orcs never got blessed by God with souls and only act according to the will of Satan/Morgoth (and later the will of Sauron).

It was either them or Trump, and at this point, I'm even more sick of Trump.

Like some people.

This is why at the end of the book The Return of the King, when Sauron dies, the Orcs immediately go slack-jawed and brain-dead. The Trolls, too. They don’t die; they become vegetables. Nothing inside them is driving them to fight or even move. In the movie, this is replaced by a very convenient and considerate earthquake that swallows all the bad guys and none of the good ones, probably because watching Aragorn and crew sigh with boredom as they hack up an army of living, breathing, motionless soldiers like in the book might come off as slightly less than heroic.

 

Everything is going to hell even with Sauron out of the picture

Ever wonder why technology and culture have barely advanced—if at all—between the first war against Sauron and the time of the books/movies, despite 3,000 years passing? If not, congratulations, you’re less of a geek than me and half the internet.

The Internet in one picture.

The Internet in one picture.

But there is an answer. Middle-earth is in a state of decay and has been since the very first humans showed up on the scene. Wow, we suck.

Humans first showed up in Middle-earth about 9-10,000 years before the events of The Lord of the Rings. Before that, the Elves were in charge of everything. They learned all the ways of the world and nature directly from the archangels. In fact, the Elves even taught the archangels a thing or two, such as speech, which they’d never bothered to come up with. (Lazy.)

Tolkien is the ultimate Elf fanboy. They’re smarter than everybody else, prettier than everyone else, more skilled than everyone else, more noble, and better smelling. Oh, and they’re also fucking immortal. How’s that for being a Mary Sue?

Later in life, Tolkien would write internet fan fiction under the pseudonym "Laura"

Later in life, Tolkien would write internet fan fiction under the pseudonym “Laura”

But their time on Middle-earth is drawing to a close. They’re all being summoned to the Everlasting Angelic Orgy in the Undying Lands. They’re surrendering the world to the shitty, shitty humans. And as they go, all their works are fading and failing.

This includes all the works of humans who were taught by Elves, which is everyone who ever did anything of note, ever. Gondor is but an echo of its former glory back in the days when the Elf-trained Atlantians ran things. Tolkien goes out of his way to specify that everything in Minas Tirith over 2,000 years old is far better than anything new, whether it’s a house or a sword or a cheese danish. Even with Aragorn on the throne, there is but a brief respite in the decay.

Humans start strong, grow weak, and die. It’s what we do. Not just individually, but as a species, too. Enjoy your day.

 

Frodo straight up murders Gollum

We all know how the One Ring is destroyed: Gollum does a happy dance right over the edge of a cliff and falls into the fires of Mount Doom. Frodo has nothing to do with it. It’s all just lucky chance that Gollum loses his footing—or perhaps divine fate.

Wrong.

MOUNT DOOM WAS AN INSIDE JOB! WAKE UP, SHEEPLE!

MOUNT DOOM WAS AN INSIDE JOB! WAKE UP, SHEEPLE!

It was Frodo who killed him. Frodo did it, by calling on the evil power of the Ring. He curses Gollum to death. But it’s easy to miss.

Frodo warns Gollum not once but twice that if Gollum betrays him, he’ll use the power of the “Precious” to force Gollum to cast himself off a cliff—first when Gollum swears on the Precious to serve Frodo, and second when they’re about to climb the mountain to Shelob’s lair.

“Bah, that’s just foreshadowing,” you say. Wait, that’s just the beginning.

Left out of the movie is the clear and specific curse Frodo lays upon Gollum just moments before entering Mount Doom. We get the scene from Sam’s perspective, who’s watching the confrontation with “other vision,” we’re told. Let’s quote straight from the source:

…before [Gollum] stood stern, untouchable now by pity, a figure robed in white, but at its breast it held a wheel of fire. Out of the fire there spoke a commanding voice. “Begone, and trouble me no more! If you touch me ever again, you shall be cast yourself into the Fire of Doom.”

That’d be Frodo’s voice, as he grasps the Ring on its chain around his neck. He is drawing upon the power of the Ring to curse his enemy. Sam sees it clearly.

Sam_frodo

Just how far will Frodo go to keep Sam quiet?

A few pages later, Gollum touches Frodo again, ripping off his finger and taking the Ring. Almost immediately, Gollum casts himself—seemingly by chance—into the Fire of Doom, just as Frodo commanded.

 

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  • prairiemike

    I like the tone of this piece very much.

    It strikes that delicate balance between informative content and effective snark that first drew me to this website … way back whenever.

    And hey … if you can’t have a little fun with mythology … well … I ask you … where can you have a little fun?

  • danbreunig

    All but maybe one of these points I knew full well already, yet I really enjoyed this article.

  • Adam Bujas

    “A third one gave birth to the giant spider that Gollum hoped would eat Frodo and Sam.”

    Not true. Ungoliant, the spider, had no origins among the “angels”, but came into being from the outer darkness from before the stars were lit. Her hunger was boundless, and even Morgoth was frightened of her. He enlisted her aid in destroying the two trees that provided all the light in the world, leaving only a fruit that became the sun, a flower that became the moon, and the Silmarils (from where the Silmarillion gets its name), which he wanted to keep. Ungoliant was angry he was withholding them so she webbed up Morgoth and was going to eat him, but his Balrogs managed to drive her off. She would later brood thousands of spiders, one of which was Shelob, the spider that nearly ate Frodo.

    Put quite simply, there existed a spider so utterly terrifying that the Devil himself was reluctant to deal with her.

    • Olaf_the_Lofty

      If you read Carpenter’s biography of Tolkien, you will learn that as a very small boy in South Africa he had a terrifying encounter with a giant spider. This /may/ have had something to do with the invention of Ungoliant and Shelob…;-)

    • maarvarq

      To be fair to Rick, it’s easy to come to this misapprehension, and fairly careless of Iluvatar to create Middle-Earth around one (or more – I forget exactly how the throwaway comment about dark creatures in the foundations of the earth goes, and the Watcher in the Water might be another) of these Eldritch Horrors.

      • Alas! Alas! I did say Ungoliant was among “these” minor angels, which implies she was corrupted after coming into Arda, as it was with Sauron. I hope you can forgive me this clumsiness.

        But Ungoliant was, in fact, a Maiar in origin and corrupted by Melkor. It’s just that it happened in the darkness outside of the world rather than Ungoliant being recruited from the ranks of the Powers’ li’l helper angels.

        ‘Tis said in The Silmarillion, “The Eldar knew not whence she [Ungoliant] came; but some have said that in ages long before she descended from the darkness that lies about Arda, when Melkor first looked down in envy upon the Kingdom of Manwë, and that in the beginning she was one of those that he corrupted to his service.”

        Okay, that’s a “some have said” rather than a “here’s what happened,” but there’s nothing to contradict it elsewhere.

        (I’m also pretty sure that Christopher Tolkien confirms it in one if his notes in Unfinished Tales, but I have no idea where to find the quote now so I’ll rest my case on The Silmarillion.)

        As for the dark creatures at the foundations of the earth, I believe those are said to be servants of Melkor who fled there after he was cast into the Void rather than having been there since the creation of the world.

  • Porphyry

    “The jealous humans turned out to be such bad neighbors that the archangels drowned the shit out of them and sank the entire island into the ocean.”

    It took a few thousand years for Numenor to decline so far, & Sauron himself engineered the last corrupt king’s attack on the Undying Lands. What happened next took him by surprise.

    IIRC the Master says that the Valar “laid down their guardianship and called upon the One.” So it was the Creator himself who sank Numenor.

    I’m quite sure none of the texts I’ve seen refer to any “Everlasting Angelic Orgy With Nonstop Orgasms Brought On By The Celebrity Of Your Choice.” Servants of the Enemy, however, might have spread such rumors.