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Is there any sort of consensus?
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Paulo Gabriel
Lorien

May 13, 10:02am

Post #1 of 28 (948 views)
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Is there any sort of consensus? Can't Post

I was in a online community of Tolkien in WhatsApp, and before I got banned, I noticed that most of its members seemed to agree that it was a settled issue, whether the Balrogs have wings or not (I think they argued that they didn't, but I can't remember, so whatever).

So, my question is simple: is that question still debated among fans, or have we reached a consensus some time ago and I didn't notice?


dernwyn
Forum Admin / Moderator


May 13, 11:46am

Post #2 of 28 (906 views)
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Before... [In reply to] Can't Post

...you got banned? Shocked

Well, no matter, it wouldn't have been for Balrog wings! Which have their ardent supporters for either existence or non-existence, no matter which way you look at them (both physically and metaphorically speaking).

Personally, I find they're quite tasty, with a honey-barbecue sauce.


~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

"I desired dragons with a profound desire"


squire
Half-elven


May 13, 12:04pm

Post #3 of 28 (897 views)
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I don't think the Tolkien fan community is all that monolithic [In reply to] Can't Post

If, as you suggest, the question isn't the source of as many active debates as it has been in the past, I would think that's because so many people are argued-out, without having changed their opinions at all.

My understanding is that the New Line films' creature design started the debate with its fully physical wings. As I remember the good old days of the 2000s online community here on TORn, the discussions usually devolved into film-vs-book clashes, or a split between lovers of over-the-top-splashy-fantasy vs those who favored understated-imaginative fantasy.

The films are receding into the past now and people who still like to talk about Tolkien and share their interest seem to me to be less passionate about old questions like these. As you admit, you weren't particularly interested in the balrog wings question yourself.



squire online:
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Otaku-sempai
Immortal


May 13, 3:38pm

Post #4 of 28 (887 views)
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The issue is still debated every so often. [In reply to] Can't Post

As for myself, I do not think that Durin's Bane had physical wings, but could manifest a form made of smoke and shadows that at least appeared to have wings. That seems clear to me from the text of FotR.

#FidelityToTolkien

(This post was edited by Otaku-sempai on May 13, 3:39pm)


Solicitr
Gondor


May 13, 4:45pm

Post #5 of 28 (883 views)
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It's much older than that [In reply to] Can't Post

The Great Balrog Wings Flame war is part of the legendary history of the rec.arts.books.tolkien listserv, back in the 90s well before PJ.


Solicitr
Gondor


May 13, 4:50pm

Post #6 of 28 (882 views)
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By the late 90s [In reply to] Can't Post

It had attained meme-and-parody status


Quote
The Hanging Man

As my friend, Mr Sherlock Holmes, entered the shop, his deep-seated, keen eyes immediately perceived that a man had hanged himself from a hook in the ceiling. Following after him, I had the fact pointed out to me.

"This case is of course lucid, but it does have some interesting features," remarked Holmes.

"How do you mean?"

"Watson, I really would be at a loss what to do without you! Your predictability is like the Rock of Gibraltar. Now, you do see that this man's shoes have been newly blackened?"

"Yes."

"Furthermore, I notice that he has stood an excellent, fastidiously rolled umbrella against the counter, as if waiting for the proprietor to turn up."

"Yes. Where is the proprietor, by the way?"

"Really, Watson, I should have thought even you realized that the proprietor's whereabouts has no bearing on to the case."

I apologized.

"Your apology is accepted, Watson. Have you noticed the strange, flat object that adorns the floor under the unfortunate man's shoes?"

I bent down and took up the object in question.

"It is just a copy of 'Strand Magazine'. I fail to see how that can be of interest," remarked I.

"You do? Come, come. You know my methods, Watson; apply them."

I looked at the magazine. It had been opened upon a learned article by a well-known historian whose name had often been in the newspapers lately, since his appointment as tutor to the young Duke of Loamshire, a close kinsman of the Royal family.

"Apparently, he was reading 'Strand Magazine' while waiting for the owner of the shop to turn up," said I.

"Excellent, Watson! What is more, he was reading the very article your eyes are presently resting on; observe that his fingernails have bored into the right-hand page, where this very learned article, after having wended its long way across the opposite side, continues before as it were going around the corner to the next page again."

"He must have been he victim of a strong emotion," observed I.

Holmes smiled a bit sadly, as if his cold, strange intellect had for once been impressed by reflections of a more compassionate nature. "Indeed he was! How long is the article, Watson?"

I leafed through the magazine.

"It is eighteen pages long, more than all the other contributions together."

"Quite so! And what is the subject of the article?"

It had not occurred to me to consider that matter before. Now I looked.

"The article is called: 'Do Balrogs Have Wings, and Do They Flap?', but I really do not understand..." I fell silent as an icy emotion of terror permeated every inch of my body. I looked up at the pathetic, silent frame hanging from the ceiling. "He went out this morning, happy in his newly blackened boots. Coming into this shop, he meant to while away the time waiting for the proprietor by doing some reading, and then..."

Holmes nodded. "God help us!" he said. His face was pale, showing that even he felt some of the dread that the situation inevitably evoked.



squire
Half-elven


May 13, 6:16pm

Post #7 of 28 (874 views)
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Thank you! I certainly did not know that [In reply to] Can't Post

Very appropriate subject for a flame war, to be sure.

Can you sum up how the topic came to be argued, given the relative lack of illustrations, not to mention films, of balrogs' appearance?

Or wait ... was it the Bakshi balrog, it just occurred to me? I had thought the question with that version was whether Balrogs wear bunny slippers or not.



squire online:
RR Discussions: The Valaquenta, A Shortcut to Mushrooms, and Of Herbs and Stewed Rabbit
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Archive: All the TORn Reading Room Book Discussions (including the 1st BotR Discussion!) and Footerama: "Tolkien would have LOVED it!"
Dr. Squire introduces the J.R.R. Tolkien Encyclopedia: A Reader's Diary


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N.E. Brigand
Half-elven


May 13, 6:55pm

Post #8 of 28 (877 views)
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Maybe ask the Supreme Court, where LOTR was mentioned today? [In reply to] Can't Post

Specifically I refer to the United States Supreme Court, which heard arguments today about the question of whether individual U.S. states may legally prohibit their electors for president and vice president from acting "faithlessly", i.e., whether these members of the Electoral College can be punished if they vote their consciences rather than voting as directed by the laws in their states (generally meaning for the candidate who got the most votes in the elector's state). If that still doesn't make sense, look up the name "Faith Spotted Eagle."

In accordance with good pandemic practices, the Court for the past two weeks has been hearing arguments remotely. The audio of the arguments was broadcast live (this is a big improvement over past practice in which audio was only available after the fact), but I know the details only from written reports.

We can't discuss the legal question here, so please don't. In and of itself I don't believe the subject is political, as that term is generally understood (and I think the arguments were pretty fascinating), and some observers feel the result will be unanimous, meaning the question also seems not to be particularly controversial (and the matter has never yet made any practical difference), but any such conversation here could lead too easily to other explicitly political topics.

However, I can note that Justice Clarence Thomas, the most senior justice (his term began in 1991), who until last week was famous for rarely asking questions during arguments -- years would go by without him doing so -- has grown loquacious in the new electronic format, and today asked a question that may be of interest here.

Here's how I saw it reported by one source:

"What if an elector says, 'I really like Frodo Baggins, so I'm going to vote for Frodo Baggins.' Can a state stop that?"

Another reporter wrote down Thomas's question as:

"The elector who had promised to vote for the winning candidate could suddenly say, 'You know, I'm going to vote for Frodo Baggins. I really like Frodo Baggins.' And you're saying, under your system, you can't do anything about that."

The second report records the attorney's response: "Your honor, I think there is something to be done, because that would be a vote for a non-person. No matter how big a fan many people are of Frodo Baggins."

It's sad to see Frodo belittled that way.

Still, maybe now there's hope that the issue of balrog wings will finally be adjudicated by someone in a position of authority.


Treachery, treachery I fear; treachery of that miserable creature.

But so it must be. Let us remember that a traitor may betray himself and do good that he does not intend.


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Ataahua
Superuser / Moderator


May 13, 7:38pm

Post #9 of 28 (868 views)
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A good chunk of the debate [In reply to] Can't Post

dwelled on the grammar of the sentence that Tolkien wrote and the interpretation of metaphor. It was that argument that finally got me to agree that Tolkien's Balrog doesn't have wings.

Mine, however, *does*. (I'm comfortable with my head-canon differing from Tolkien's on this point - my head, my rules.)

Celebrimbor: "Pretty rings..."
Dwarves: "Pretty rings..."
Men: "Pretty rings..."
Sauron: "Mine's better."

"Ah, how ironic, the addictive qualities of Sauron’s master weapon led to its own destruction. Which just goes to show, kids - if you want two small and noble souls to succeed on a mission of dire importance... send an evil-minded beggar with them too." - Gandalf's Diaries, final par, by Ufthak.


Fantasy novel - The Arcanist's Tattoo

My LOTR fan-fiction


Solicitr
Gondor


May 13, 8:04pm

Post #10 of 28 (865 views)
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As well as [In reply to] Can't Post

the definition of "fly." As in, the Fellowship must all have had wings, because Gandalf, who was in a position to know, said "Fly, you fools!"


grammaboodawg
Immortal


May 14, 11:25am

Post #11 of 28 (838 views)
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*snert* :D [In reply to] Can't Post

with a side of taters and ketsup!




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grammaboodawg
Immortal


May 14, 12:11pm

Post #12 of 28 (833 views)
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Ever since my first reading [In reply to] Can't Post

back in 1971, my image of the Balrog had wings... and still does. I never even questioned or considered whether or not wings were an option until the debates started here. I understand the argument and logic via the text; but that's the beauty of Tolkien's writings, imho. You're free to use your imagination and make the story your own :)




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Paulo Gabriel
Lorien

May 14, 12:23pm

Post #13 of 28 (836 views)
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I don't know why you care... [In reply to] Can't Post

that I got banned. I had a discussion with the idiotic community's owner, because I wouldn't sell ''The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien'' to him...plus I had a flame war with those obnoxious Hobbit-movie ''haters''. There. You got the reasons I was banned for.

But thanks for telling me that I was right and that there is no consensus amongst ''fans''.


dernwyn
Forum Admin / Moderator


May 14, 1:45pm

Post #14 of 28 (830 views)
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I'm teasing you. [In reply to] Can't Post

But we Admins do have a natural curiosity about such things. (And we've had to put out a few "flame wars" here, before they erupted into conflagrations.)

Nope, no consensus, like Elvish counsel. Wink


~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

"I desired dragons with a profound desire"


Solicitr
Gondor


May 14, 2:03pm

Post #15 of 28 (828 views)
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Subject [In reply to] Can't Post


Quote
because I wouldn't sell ''The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien'


Seriously? You mean the volume he could order from Amazon with one click?


Voronwë_the_Faithful
Valinor

May 14, 4:01pm

Post #16 of 28 (819 views)
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Actually [In reply to] Can't Post

I have it on the best authority that what he is really referring to is the rare volume Other Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, which contains such gems as the professor offering fashion advice to Zsa Zsa Gabor, and telling Frank Herbert just exactly what he really thinks of Dune.

Tongue

'But very bright were the stars upon the margin of the world, when at times the clouds about the West were drawn aside.'

The Hall of Fire

(This post was edited by Voronwë_the_Faithful on May 14, 4:01pm)


squire
Half-elven


May 14, 5:20pm

Post #17 of 28 (807 views)
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I've seen that one [In reply to] Can't Post

... it also has the letter to Joni Mitchell about using her songs for Tom Bombadil in any new edition of LotR.



squire online:
RR Discussions: The Valaquenta, A Shortcut to Mushrooms, and Of Herbs and Stewed Rabbit
Lights! Action! Discuss on the Movie board!: 'A Journey in the Dark'. and 'Designing The Two Towers'.
Archive: All the TORn Reading Room Book Discussions (including the 1st BotR Discussion!) and Footerama: "Tolkien would have LOVED it!"
Dr. Squire introduces the J.R.R. Tolkien Encyclopedia: A Reader's Diary


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Paulo Gabriel
Lorien

May 14, 7:18pm

Post #18 of 28 (787 views)
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Oh, ok. // [In reply to] Can't Post

 


(This post was edited by Paulo Gabriel on May 14, 7:28pm)


Paulo Gabriel
Lorien

May 14, 7:25pm

Post #19 of 28 (791 views)
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No... [In reply to] Can't Post

He wanted a specific print from a specific year, that he claims only I have. And I WOULD have sell it to him, if the shipping costs did not double-tip when I was ready to ship it at the post office-- but to be fair, he couldn't have know that. BUT NEITHER COULD I.

That's why I sent his money back and said the deal was off/over-- but he got mad at me and started some nasty name-calling toward me in my personal Facebook timeline. I had to block this guy. Seriously. He started stalking me online.

Crazy story. Crazy


Solicitr
Gondor


May 14, 7:37pm

Post #20 of 28 (788 views)
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Well, [In reply to] Can't Post


In Reply To
I have it on the best authority that what he is really referring to is the rare volume Other Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien,


Didn't you hear? It turns out it was actually written by Clifford Irving.

(Yeah, you have to be a certain age to get that one)


Elizabeth
Half-elven


May 15, 12:51am

Post #21 of 28 (775 views)
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"The last word on Balrog Wings" [In reply to] Can't Post

One of my favorite TORn sibs was Reverend, who tragically died in the summer of 2003 and thus never got to see Return of the King. The winter before he died, he led a chapter discussion on "The Bridge of Khazad-Dum", which, of course, had to confront the issue. Here is his post, rescued from oblivion (the computer containing all our posts prior to 2007 crashed some years ago) by grammaboodawg. This may be more than you wanted, but here it is:

Date/Time: Thursday, 1/16/2003 at 1:20 EDT
Browser/OS: Microsoft Internet Explorer V5.5 using Windows 95
Subject: The Bridge of Khazad-Dum #19: The last Word on Balrog Wings

Message:
“The Balrog reached the bridge. Gandalf stood in the middle of the span, leaning on the staff in his left hand, but in the other hand Glamdring gleamed, cold and white. His enemy halted again, facing him. and the shadow about it reached out like two vast wings. It raised the whip, and the thongs whined and cracked. Fire came from its nostrils, but Gandalf stood firm.

‘You cannot pass,’ he said. The orcs stood still, and dead silence fell. ‘I am a servant of the Secret Fire, wielder of the Flame of Anor. You cannot pass. The dark fire will not avail you, Flame of Udun. Go back to the Shadow! You cannot pass.’

The Balrog made no answer. The fire in it seemed to die, but the darkness grew. It stepped forward slowly on to the bridge, and suddenly it drew itself up to a great height, and its wings were spred from wall to wall.”

It is possible that some readers, even fans, are unaware of the virulent controversy swirling around this passage. Insults have been exchanged. Friendships have been ruptured. Polite discussion boards have been rendered unreadable. Michael Martinez says “Marriages have probably been arranged on the basis of who believes in Balrog wings,” and I believe him. The question is; if the first reference to the Balrog’s ‘wings’ is a similie, is the second reference a metaphor? That is, does the Balrog actually have physical wings?

You will note that the movies cravenly fudge the issue by giving the Balrog wing BONES, but making the fabric of the wings an insubstantial shadow. This is not the course of champions. I will now settle the matter once and for all, so that the quarreling hordes may rest.

First, I should introduce you to the arguments. If you a Google search on ‘Balrog Wings’ you will get 3,300 hits. To save you the trouble I have reviewed a representative sample (one percent) of these (results are in the ‘Annotated Bibliography on Balrog Wings’ below) and can say that the arguements break down into five categories.

1. The second reference says ‘wings’ without modifier, so Balrogs have unmodified wings. This may be called the ‘Miniature’ school, because ALL makers of lead miniatures insist that Balrogs got wings.
2. The first reference IS similie, so the second HAS TO be metaphor. This may be called the ‘Enraged Elitist’ school, because most expositions of this theory start off with a high-toned discussion of literary forms, and then proceed to screams of incoherent rage.
3. That Balrogs have wings, but cannot fly with them. This may be called the ‘Curious’ school, since it is a very curious way of thinking.
4. That Balrogs do not have wings, but can fly with them anyway. This may be referred to as the ‘Inverted’ school, as it is a result of the upside-down thinking of the antipodes.
5. That Balrogs not only have wings, but fuzzy bedroom slippers. This may be called the ‘Bakshi’ school, because his animation is explicit on these points.
6. That anyone who wastes five seconds of his or her life on such issues is insane.
This may be called the ‘Madman’ theory, because anyone who holds it clearly is.
7. The truth, which I’ll get to in a moment.

First, there is some additional evidence that needs to be taken into account. ‘Balrogs’ appear in Tolkien’s writing throughout his life, but changed radicaly over time. The very first Balrogs appear in version of ‘The Fall of Gondolin’ that appears in ‘The Book of Lost Tales.’ These Balrogs are a CAVALRY force of 1,000. A thousand or more Balogs appear in a number of early texts. Clearly they are nowhere near so formidable as the later Balrog.

Then we have the early drafts of the ‘Bridge of Khazad-Dun’ itself. These are found in the History of Middle Earth, Vol 7, ‘The Treason of Isengard.’ They are remarkable for the visual evolution of the Balrog. At first it is a lithe figure only slightly larger than a man, with no flame of shadow, and absolutely no wings. It rapidly gets larger and more traditionally demonic, with the shadow and mention of wings only in the final product.

Then we have the late Balrog, represented by the last draft of the Quenta Silmarillion Tolkien attempted. This is found in ‘Morgoth’s Ring’ (HoME X). Here we have a very key passage, when Ungoliant has turned on Morgoth and he cries for help:

“Far beneath the halls of Angband... the Balrogs lurked still.... Swiftly they arose, and they passed with winged speed over Hithlum, and they came to Lammoth as a tempest of fire.”

While it is possible to ‘arise’ without flying, to ‘pass over’ without flying, to move with ‘winged speed’ without leaving the ground, and arrive like a tempest without actually being a stormcloud, it is difficult for an earthbound creature to plausably do all of these things in one sentence. It is asking too much of metaphor. Or, as Michael Martinez says: “Yes, Balrogs had wings...from about 1940 onward. Yes, Balrogs flew...from at least 1940 onward, maybe from 1948 onward, or possibly from 1952 or thereabouts onward.”

That is, in this matter, as on almost every matter of dispute in Tolkien, the author changed his mind, changed it more than once, and made no effort to impose consistancy on his past writting. Early Balrogs definitely did not have wings and did not fly. Late Balrogs did have wings and definitely flew. This should not surprise us. Tolkien was willing to even change things already in print when it suited him, as when he altered the text of the Hobbit (as first published Gollum GAVE Bilbo the Ring for winning the Riddle Game, as he told the Dwarves), or when he revised Celeborn’s clan affiliation without notifying Galadriel.

So, back to the question. Did the Balrog at the Bridge of Khazad-Dum have wings?

Here I refer back to my epochal post of several months ago, in which I point out that the Balrog, and Balrogs in general, had been getting bigger, and more traditionally demonic, in each revision. I say that this process continued into print. The second reference to wings is not a metaphor, because somewhere in the process getting about a hundred words on paper, Tolkien changed his mind. The transition between the early Balrog and the late Balrog is preserved for us in ink; the Balrog came into the room without wings and left with them. Don’t say Tolkien was too careful a writer to do this. Nazgul also received a radical upgrade over the course of the story; they just managed it off-stage.


grammaboodawg
Immortal


May 15, 1:37am

Post #22 of 28 (751 views)
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*mods up* :) // [In reply to] Can't Post

 




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We have been there and back again.


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dernwyn
Forum Admin / Moderator


May 15, 1:57am

Post #23 of 28 (757 views)
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This is a classic. [In reply to] Can't Post

And truly is the ultimate word on the subject. Cool

Thank you, Elizabeth!


~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

"I desired dragons with a profound desire"


Ataahua
Superuser / Moderator


May 15, 2:54am

Post #24 of 28 (753 views)
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Oh, I had forgotten this gem. [In reply to] Can't Post


In Reply To
the Balrog came into the room without wings and left with them.


Thank you for reposting this, Elizabeth - Reverend's unique scholarship deserves to be revisited from time to time. Heart

Celebrimbor: "Pretty rings..."
Dwarves: "Pretty rings..."
Men: "Pretty rings..."
Sauron: "Mine's better."

"Ah, how ironic, the addictive qualities of Sauron’s master weapon led to its own destruction. Which just goes to show, kids - if you want two small and noble souls to succeed on a mission of dire importance... send an evil-minded beggar with them too." - Gandalf's Diaries, final par, by Ufthak.


Fantasy novel - The Arcanist's Tattoo

My LOTR fan-fiction


squire
Half-elven


May 15, 4:01am

Post #25 of 28 (751 views)
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Still the winner and all-time champeen [In reply to] Can't Post

I missed the Reverend on TORn, joining several months after his passing. What I've heard of him and read of his writings, like this classic post, confirm his legendary status. I note here his little digs at his long-time partners in Reading Room crime, Curious and NZ Strider, whose opinions on Balrog wings he deftly mocks, no doubt not for the first or last time.

Thanks for this, Elizabeth!



squire online:
RR Discussions: The Valaquenta, A Shortcut to Mushrooms, and Of Herbs and Stewed Rabbit
Lights! Action! Discuss on the Movie board!: 'A Journey in the Dark'. and 'Designing The Two Towers'.
Archive: All the TORn Reading Room Book Discussions (including the 1st BotR Discussion!) and Footerama: "Tolkien would have LOVED it!"
Dr. Squire introduces the J.R.R. Tolkien Encyclopedia: A Reader's Diary


= Forum has no new posts. Forum needs no new posts.

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