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Lord of the Rings Appendix A

Corey Olsen

Perhaps the first time you finished The Lord of the Rings, taking a deep breath with Sam Gamgee and reading “Well, I’m back,” you were surprised to find that you were still holding 150-200 pages of text in your right hand.  These are the extensive Appendices and Indexes of the Lord of the Rings, and they are often overlooked by readers of Tolkien. 

The Appendices reflect Tolkien’s attempt to fill out in brief some further details of his subcreation.  Some of this material is rather technical, though fascinating: hobbit family trees, the Shire calendar, and notes about the languages and writing of Middle-Earth.  Other parts of the Appendices are devoted to telling stories and giving background that would not fit within the published story, such as the fuller story of the relationship of Aragorn and Arwen.  Tolkien even gives glimpses of what follows the end of the Lord of the Rings and what happens to members of the Fellowship of the Ring who are still in Middle-Earth at the end of the story. 

In this article, I will focus on Appendix A, which is about as long as Appendices B through F put together, which I will discuss in next month’s issue.  Appendix A is titled The Annals of the Kings and Rulers, and it is divided into three sections, each of which provides history and lore for a different group of people: The Númenorean Kings, The House of Eorl, and Durin’s Folk.  The first section, by far the largest, covers the history of Númenor itself, Arnor and the Heirs of Isildur, Gondor and the Heirs of Anárion, and the Tale of Aragorn and Arwen. 

The Númenorean Kings

In the Two Towers, as Frodo and Sam are being hosted in Henneth Annûn, Faramir gives the hobbits a very brief history of the realm of Gondor, describing its ancient greatness and its modern decline (TT 662-664).  Appendix A not only tells that story in more detail, but it places the history of Gondor within the context of the larger story of the ancient legends of Middle-Earth. 

Readers of the Lord of the Rings will find here the stories underlying many references and allusions that are never fully explained in the main story, and the answers to many questions left unanswered.  The Lord of the Ringwraiths seems extremely confident that he cannot be killed by any living man, but how does he know that?  When Merry wakes up from his enchanted sleep in the barrow, he at first retains a strange memory that “the men of Carn Dûm came on us at night, and we were worsted” (FR 140).  What is he talking about?  At Aragorn’s wedding, Elrond brings the “sceptre of Annúminas” and “surrenders it” to him, which seems like a big deal, but what is it and why does Elrond have it?  And why does Faramir’s friendship with Gandalf bother Denethor so much, anyway?

Appendix A will also teach you to look differently at many of the places we encounter in the Lord of the Rings, whose importance is often only hinted at.  When Tom Bombadil is escorting the hobbits to the great road, they pass “a line of bushes growing on the edge of a deep dike with a steep wall on the further side” (FR 143).  Tom tells them that it used to be “the boundary of a kingdom,” and they note that he “seemed to remember something sad about it.”  But we are never told what boundary was marked there, or why it is sad.  When the hobbits get to Weathertop, Aragorn tells them that the great watchtower of Amon Sûl once stood there and that Elendil waited there for the coming of Gil-Galad during the Last Alliance, though all that remains is a ring of stones (FR 181).  But why did Elendil choose this particular tower at which to wait for Gil-Galad, and when and how was it destroyed?  Elrond mentions at the Council that the “chief city” of Gondor was once Osgiliath, “Citadel of the Stars,” which was far greater than Minas Tirith (FR 238), though it now lies in ruins around the great river.  But if Minas Tirith is so great and so strong, how did this far mightier city come to be destroyed and abandoned?

Appendix A tells the stories which provide answers to all of these questions.  However, there are some readers who might not necessarily want all this extra information.  While he was working on the Appendices, Tolkien recognized this possibility in a letter to Rayner Unwin, his publisher, observing that “those who enjoy the book as a ‘heroic romance’ only, and find ‘unexplained vistas’ part of the literary effect, will neglect the appendices, very properly” (Letters 210).  Many readers have from the beginning appreciated the tremendous depth that the Lord of the Rings gets from these “unexplained vistas” in the story.  I would argue, however, that there is little chance of the Appendices actually depriving the books of their mystery and interest.  For every vista that is explained, many more open out before the reader.  Great characters cross the stage too quickly for us to catch more than a glimpse of them: Eldacar, the heir to the throne but son of a princess of Rhovanion and thus deprived of his inheritance; Boromir I, the great captain of Gondor for whom Boromir of the Fellowship is named; Malbeth the Seer, one of whose prophecies leads Aragorn to the Paths of the Dead.  Long though the section on the Dúnedain is, it covers so much ground that it gives only skeletal outlines and brief hints at stories that would fill entire books. 

Far from robbing the Lord of the Rings of its grandeur, the stories told in the appendices give increased force and power to many of its plotlines.  Only when we’ve read more of the former glory and the later waning of Gondor, for instance, can we fully appreciate the weight of those lines in the Return of the King concerning all the empty houses and deserted streets in Minas Tirith (RK 736).  We gain a new appreciation for Boromir’s wonder and for his haughtiness when Aragorn is suddenly declared to be Isildur’s heir at the Council of Elrond, and we can now feel the full “rightness” of Aragorn’s planting of the sapling of the White Tree in Minas Tirith and understand why he connects that event with his wedding.  Most importantly, we can enter more completely into the hope and joy of the people of Gondor when the rumor of the King returned begins to spread through Minas Tirith by night.

In Appendix A we can also see the further development of larger themes that are only touched on in the Lord of the Rings.  In many places, Tolkien provides us glimpses of the tendency of all human works and kingdoms to decline and to fall, and in Appendix A, Tolkien expands on this theme, not just by providing us more details on the declining kingdoms of old, but by drawing attention to the larger patterns perceptible in some of the causes of their decline and downfall.  Tolkien shows us the fear of death in the Númenoreans, and the pride and fixation on the world around them that were bound up with that fear.  We can then hear the echoes of these same failings in the divisions of the kingdom of Arnor, their petty squabbles and struggles for dominance and possession of the palantíri which weakened them in the face of their enemy, and in the decay of Gondor, the arrogance visible in the rejection of Eldacar for his mixed lineage, the refusal of Arvedui’s appeal for the reunification of the kingdoms of Elendil, the foolhardy rashness of the last king Eärnur, and the use of the palantír by Denethor. 

Poised against these inveterate vices is the career of Aragorn, and as we read his story we can see the profound significance of the humility of his life among the Rangers and his refusal of honor and glory, even when all of Minas Tirith wanted to shower it upon him in the years of Denethor’s youth.  We can see how his own rejection of the Ring, so rarely dwelt upon in the narrative of the Lord of the Rings, worked contrary to the Númenorean trends and helped to set them right, bringing about not only the restoration of the southern kingdom but the long-delayed reunion with the re-established northern kingdom.  Most poignantly, in the description of Aragorn’s submission to death years after the War of the Ring, we can see his last reversal of the sins of Númenor, embracing his fate and willingly passing beyond the circles of the world.

The House of Eorl

The second section of Appendix A offers us the answers to yet more lingering questions that the Lord of the Rings leaves us with.  Why did Théoden adopted his niece and nephew into his own household on the death of their parents?  What are the Mearas and how did they become connected with the House of Eorl?  What is Helm’s horn, and why does Théoden have it sounded when they sally from the Hornburg to attack the enemy at Helm’s Deep?  Whose skeleton is it that Aragorn finds lying before a locked door in the Paths of the Dead?

In the section on the Rohirrim there is even less danger of de-mystifying the story than there was in the section on the Dúnedain.  Tolkien here gives us glimpses of many very colorful characters and fascinating stories.  We hear of Fram who slew Scatha the dragon (though we don’t know how it happened) and of his creative insult of the dwarves and the fact that they later killed him for it.  We hear snatches of the story of Helm Hammerhand, who could kill men with one blow of his fist, who may have been invulnerable to weapons, and who may or may not have eaten the flesh of his enemies.  We hear of Fréaláf, Helm’s nephew, who, accompanied only by a “small company of desperate men” creeps into Meduseld, kills the usurper of his uncle’s throne, and recaptures the kingdom.  We hear of Folca, who slew the “great boar of Everholt in the Firien Wood” (whatever that was) but died of the tusk-wounds it gave him.  Any of these mean could easily be the hero of a whole epic poem, though the epics themselves are lost and the stories untold.

The history of the House of Eorl also gives us more insight into the overall texture of the culture of the Mark.  In the Lord of the Rings we can see at several points that the Rohirrim value truth.  In our first meeting with the Rohirrim, we hear Éomer tell Aragorn that “the Men of the Mark do not lie, and therefore they are not easily deceived” (TT 424), and when Aragorn offers a one-sentence eulogy on King Théoden in the Houses of the Healing, he chooses his faithfulness for one of his primary compliments, saying that “he was a gentle heart and a great king and kept his oaths” (RK 851).  Appendix A places these few brief references within a larger pattern for us, allowing us to see more clearly the centrality of truth-speaking in this culture.           

The Rohirrim frequently make oaths which they then spend their lives in fulfilling, and may pass on to those who follow them.  At the top of this list, of course, is the fundamental historical and political reality of the Mark: the Oath of Eorl.  When Théoden dies fulfilling this oath, he speaks of going to his fathers, adding “and even in their mighty company I shall not now be ashamed” (RK 824).  The appendix helps us to see Théoden’s self-sacrificial keeping of the Oath in the same historical context in which he sees it, taking his place in a solemn tradition stretching back through King Folcwine, whose twin sons died in Ithilien helping Gondor repell the Haradrim, to the heroic ride of Eorl himself, saving the armies of Gondor from complete destruction at the Battle of Celebrant. 

Yet in addition to the great Oath which is the cornerstone of the nation of Rohan, we hear of many other oaths taken and kept.  Sometimes the oath is rash and disastrous, such as the vow of Baldur, grandson of Eorl, takes to tread the Paths of the Dead.  Sometimes the oath is more noble and heroic, such as the vow King Folca, the great hunter, takes to “chase no wild beast while there was an Orc left in Rohan” (RK 1043).  The Rohirrim are, as Éomer says, “truth-speakers,” in a deep sense; they not only fit words correctly to deeds, but they make their deeds to fit their words as well.  In this light, Éowyn’s declaration, “I will be a healer” (RK 943), cannot be heard as a mere emotional effusion.  Words like this have real power among the Rohirrim, binding her to a definite course of action.  Aragorn is certainly right that a King of the Mark who keeps his oaths is a “great king.”

Durin’s Folk

Tolkien’s representation of the dwarves leaves readers with an enormous number of unanswered questions.  Who was Durin, anyway?  If he was the founder of Khazad-dûm, how could he also have been king when the Balrog, later called Durin’s Bane, awakes thousands of years later?  Are they the same Durin?  Why did Balin seem to think that there was a Ring of Power in Moria?  Why, in The Hobbit, does Gandalf emphasize to Daín that the leader of the goblin army is Bolg son of Azog?  And why is Thorin called “Oakenshield”?  And there are also bigger questions that we might have about dwarven nature as well.  Where do dwarves come from and what happens to them when they die?  Why do we almost never hear anything about dwarf women?

The stories and discussion of the dwarves in the appendix, short though they are, shed some light on the fascinatingly complex nature of dwarves.  On the one hand, they are stubbornly resistant to outside control.  Sauron gave to them rings such as he gave to Men, intending to bring them under his power, but the rings failed in this, for the dwarves did not become wraiths, being “from their beginning of a kind to resist most steadfastly any domination” (RK 1051).  On the other hand, they are a jealous people in the archaic sense of that word (the sense used in the King James Bible): strongly desiring to keep and guard the things that are their own.  The combination of these two factors, their resistance to control and their possessiveness, gives us a picture of a people fiercely independent.  Seeing this picture helps us to understand better, for instance, why Thorin acted so apparently ungraciously in The Hobbit when Bard and Elvenking came under arms to the Front Gate of the Lonely Mountain, demanding a share of Smaug’s treasure.

This glimpse into dwarven character also helps us to gain a whole new appreciation for what a remarkable person Gimli is.  His rapture at his discovery of the Glittering Caves may be very dwarf-like, but his immediate impulse to share that wonder with another (and even a non-dwarf!) is quite striking.  His reverence for Galadriel is more remarkable still, and not just because she is an Elf.  In his devotion to the Lady of Lorien, Gimli submits himself willingly to her service, putting himself entirely under her benevolent dominion.  Imagine that for a dwarf!  At the end of his life, Gimli puts aside his wealth, his realm, and the works of his hands in order to cling to his friendship with Legolas and his reverence for Galadriel, valuing them more than he values those things which were his own.  Appendix A shows us that the one dwarf that we come to know best in The Lord of the Rings is in many ways quite a strange and unusual dwarf.

Check back in next month’s issue for an overview and discussion of Appendices B through F!

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