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Hamfast Gamgee
Grey Havens

Mar 3 2021, 12:29am

Views: 1596

What where the various uses of Mithril in Middle-Earth? For something that may have been important there is not much that is mentioned of the substance in the tales. We only first hear of it in the Moria chapter with Gandalf's monologue on the subject. But how widespread was its uses. Common or just in special things. If it was the latter than might there have been shortages of Mithril and fluctuations in its value? What was it's uses, we know it made good armour, but might it have been used in the production of swords for example. And how much with people like those in Rohan for example would they have traded in spite of there distrust of each other for mutual profit. I suspect that the whole production and sale of Mithril was a bit more complex than was mentioned in the story. And was Mithril a magical, treasured thing or could a cynic say that it was just a little bit like modern Aluminimum.


Mar 3 2021, 3:08pm

Views: 1477
Re: Mithril

Since mithril was a rare and valuable metal, I doubt it was much used for commonplace items. The most extravagant use of silver-steel was probably its incorporation into the new gates of Minas Tirith. The monetary value of those gates must have been staggering. Mithril does not seem to have been used much for the making of swords or other bladed weapons. One of the most famous swords in Middle-earth, Narsil, was of dwarven make and I don't think that it was made of mithril.

I don't think that mithril was intrinsically magical, but it did seem to take well to magical enchantment. Nor do I think that Tolkien meant to equate it with any real metal or alloy, though it seems to be a bit like aluminum in its property of lightness.


The Shire

Mar 4 2021, 12:49pm

Views: 1428
Use of Mithril

Apart from Bilbo's corslet, mithril is also mentioned as the material from which the helmets worn by the citadel guards of Minas Tirith were made, and also Galadriel's ring Nenya.

The elven-smiths created ithildin from mithril, a material used for markings that would turn only visible in moon or star light and only after pronouncing the correct words to it. The markings of the western door of Moria was made from ithildin.


Mar 4 2021, 11:32pm

Views: 1413
I doubt Mithril was traded much in Rohan, except among the Royal family maybe.

I think it is mentioned somewhere that the true silver from which Mithril was made (Or are they one and the same?) was extremely rare in Middle-Earth, and there was found more or less only in the depths of Morias mines.

Which means up until third age 1981, only the Dwarves would have access to it.

So any others, like Rohirrim, or Wood-elves could only have gotten hold of it by trading with the Dwarves.

Except that outside of Middle-Earth it was also found in Aman, and on Numenor. (Which could perhaps explain those helmets of the guard in Minas Tirith.)

But Elves descended from the Exiles might have had Mithril items that were brought back from Aman during the Exodus, and since the Noldor were not up until that time primarily a warrior people, many of those Mithril items may have been things like regalia or even utensils, rather than weapons or armour, though they would not I think have been commonplace. (Thinking rather of things like crowns, or rings, or fine silver ware.)

Once in Middle-Earth the Exiles could only get more Mithril from dealing with the Dwarves of Moria. (So it is likely that for instance Celebrimbor and his smiths and people would have had some access to it.)

The Dwarves themeselves obviously made use of it, for exclusive armour, and probably weapons and construction and secret writing, and other different types of decoration.

It's also somewhat unclear who had the skill to work the metal, except for the Dwarves. The Elven-Smith of Eregion probably. Elronds people maybe.

I don't know if they would make swords out of Mithril? First swords were not the primary Dwarven weapon of choice, (though they did make use of them), and also Mithril is described as wonderously light, and I think you do want to have a bit of weight in a good sword, so more likely swords were made of some other hard, heavier metal, and then maybe inscribed, damasced, decorated or coated with Mithril.

(This post was edited by InTheChair on Mar 4 2021, 11:37pm)


Mar 7 2021, 5:33pm

Views: 1236
mithril as a (relatively) untainted substance in Arda

Your question got me thinking about the place of mithril as a substance, or ‘matter’, in the fabric of Arda. In the “Myths Transformed” essay in Morgoth’s Ring, JRRT writes of the ‘Melkor ingredient’ forcibly infused in all the physical matter in Arda, outside of Aman. JRRT uses gold and silver to help illustrate the point, with gold being particularly heavily laden with what he calls the “Morgoth-element”. In practice, this means that gold has a specifically “evil trend”, which was a “prerequisite for such ‘magic’ and other evils as Sauron practised with it and upon it” – the link with the base metal used in the forging of most of the Rings of Power being clear. Silver, on the other hand, is said to not include that “evil trend” and thereby is relatively ‘clean’, as I would put it in this context – albeit still subject to the same dissemination of the Melkor ingredient.

Taking this typology and cross-applying it to mithril silver, it is perhaps not then surprising to see this metal applied in more positive contexts. Yes, it still inspired greed, eg. the unhealthy obsessions of the Númenórean king Tar-Telemmaitë (more about him below) or the Dwarves of Moria delving “too greedily and too deep”. However, we also get application in protection and warding, eg. Bilbo’s mithril coat; and in relatively positive ‘magic’, eg. the base metal for Nenya, the Ring of Water, one of the three Rings of Power forged by and for the Elves. I use the word ‘relatively’ in deliberate fashion, as JRRT makes clear that even the Three Rings were crafted in hubris. And finally, linking up with the “Song of Eärendil”, as written by Bilbo and ‘polished’ by Aragorn, Eärendil’s ship Vingilótë is described as being built of “mithril and of elven glass”. It doesn’t get any holier, sacred or selfless than Eärendil’s voyage West. Figurative, perhaps, in its context, but also fitting well with what was done with Vingilótë after the Voyage of Eärendil, when it was “hallowed” by the Valar, before setting it to sail the skies. It’s possible that the reconstruction and hallowing of Vingilótë may have used mithril sourced in Aman, and therefore was free of the Melkor taint. Or Vingilótë original construction was where the mithril was first introduced, and therefore featured the ‘tainted’ version of the metal found in Middle-earth. Either way, mithril is being used in a sacral, fundamentally ‘good’ sense.

For the completionists: a quick sweep of the source material throws up a few additional references. Not least that CT notes in the footnotes of the “Disaster of the Gladden Fields” (Unfinished Tales) that JRRT contradicted his own world-building (for a change!) by saying that mithril was found in Númenor, alongside the classic Gandalf-in-Moria quote saying that it was only found in Moria.

The aptly-named 15th king of Númenor, Tar-Telemmaitë (Q: ‘Silver-handed’), was so obsessed with silvery stuff “he bade his servants to seek ever for mithril” ("The Line of Elros", Unfinished Tales). Even if this is taken in the context of Númenor having mithril mines of its own, there’s a hint that Tar-Telemmaitë’s minions may have had some kind of contact with the Dwarves in the Second Age, millennia before Durin’s Folk sorted out a mithril-inlaid gate for that later Númenórean scion, Elessar.

Welcome to the Mordorfone network, where we put the 'hai' back into Uruk

Hamfast Gamgee
Grey Havens

Mar 10 2021, 12:12am

Views: 1150
Interesting stuff

Mithril probably was in greater use in the 2nd age than in the 3rd. The later part of the 3rd, anyway. I was thinking that it was possibly odd that there was a substance in Middle-earth, Mithril, which was harder and more valuable than anything in Aman, but this is just about feasable. It's not impossible that the Gods or their servants did get some form of raw material of mithril from Moria and transported it to Aman. Or it is possible that there where many different types of Mithril. Or maybe Mithril was one of different types of silver in the world. But I am speculating. As far as Numenor is concerned, some Mithril in the 2nd age could conceivably have been traded as far as there and possibly re-produced, but it might not have been true-silver. Oh, well, just some thoughts.