Mithril

Last updated

Mithril is a fictional metal found in the writings of J. R. R. Tolkien, which is present in his Middle-earth, and also appears in many other works of derivative fantasy. It is described as resembling silver but being stronger and lighter than steel. The author first wrote of it in The Lord of the Rings , and it is retrospectively mentioned [T 1] in the third, revised edition of The Hobbit in 1966. In the first 1937 edition, the mail shirt given to Bilbo Baggins is described as being made of "silvered steel". [T 1]

Contents

The name mithril comes from two words in Tolkien's Sindarin language—mith, meaning "grey", and ril meaning "glitter". [T 2]

Tolkien

Properties

In The Fellowship of the Ring , the wizard Gandalf explained mithril to others while passing through Moria:

Mithril! All folk desired it. It could be beaten like copper, and polished like glass; and the Dwarves could make of it a metal, light and yet harder than tempered steel. Its beauty was like to that of common silver, but the beauty of mithril did not tarnish or grow dim. [T 2]

The Noldor of Eregion, the Elvish land to the west of Moria, made an alloy from it called ithildin ("star moon"), used to decorate gateways, portals and pathways. It was visible only by starlight or moonlight. The West Gate of Moria bore inlaid ithildin designs and runes. [T 2] It is implied at one point that the "moon-letters" featured in The Hobbit were also composed of ithildin.

Abundance

Based on Tolkien's knowledge of deep mining in South Africa: section of Kimberley Diamond Mine, 1885 IY188 pg157 KIMBERLEY DIAMOND MINE, GRIQUALAND WEST, SOUTH AFRICA, 1885.jpg
Based on Tolkien's knowledge of deep mining in South Africa: section of Kimberley Diamond Mine, 1885

In Tolkien's Middle-earth, mithril is extremely rare by the end of the Third Age, as it was now found only in Khazad-dûm. Once the Balrog destroyed Khazad-dûm, the kingdom of the Dwarves in Moria, the only source of new mithril ore was cut off. Before Moria was abandoned by the Dwarves, while it was still being actively mined, mithril was worth ten times its weight in gold. [T 2] After the Dwarves abandoned Moria and production of new mithril stopped entirely, it became priceless. The Tolkien critic Paul Kocher interprets the Dwarves' intense secrecy around mithril and their devotion to artistry in metal and stone as "a sublimation of their sexual frustration", given that they have very few dwarf-women and love beauty with a "jealous possessiveness", or (quoting Tolkien) "being engrossed in their crafts". [2]

Danièle Barberis notes that Tolkien was born in Bloemfontein, South Africa, in a busy mining region. She writes that it is "impossible ... not to make parallels" between Tolkien's descriptions of the deep mines of Moria and the exceptional depth of South African mines, some as much as 4,000 metres (13,000 ft) deep. [1]

There are indications that mithril was also found in Númenor [T 3] and in Aman. [T 4]

The mithril-coat

The most notable item made of mithril in the works of Tolkien is the "small shirt of mail" retrieved from the hoard of the dragon Smaug, and given to Bilbo Baggins by Thorin Oakenshield. [T 1] Gandalf says the value of this mithril-coat was "greater than the value of the whole Shire and everything in it". [T 2]

"Also there is this!" said Bilbo, bringing out a parcel which seemed to be rather heavy for its size. He unwound several folds of old cloth, and held up a small shirt of mail. It was close-woven of many rings, as supple almost as linen, cold as ice, and harder than steel. It shone like moonlit silver, and was studded with white gems.

Bilbo wore the mithril shirt during the Battle of the Five Armies,. [T 1] He donated it to the Mathom-house, a museum in Michel Delving. However he later reclaimed it, and took it with him when he left the Shire for his journey to Rivendell. There, some years later, he gave the shirt to Frodo Baggins when the younger hobbit embarked on his quest in The Lord of The Rings . Frodo wore the mail underneath his tunic and other shirt unbeknownst to the rest of the fellowship. The mail saved Frodo's life when he was hit by a spear thrust from an orc during the battle in the Chamber of Mazarbul, and again when an orc-arrow struck him while escaping Moria. [T 2] Later, it protected him from another orc-arrow while crossing the River Anduin. [T 5] In the Lord of the Rings film, Frodo is speared once (wielded by a cave troll) but survives much to the disbelief of the Fellowship. Upon opening his tunic he reveals the mithril mail, to the amazement of Gimli and Aragorn.

When Sam Gamgee believed Frodo to be dead outside Shelob's Lair, he left the shirt with Frodo. Frodo was taken by the orcs, who fought over the shirt. Frodo was saved, but one of the orcs escaped with the shirt. The shirt was, along with Frodo's other possessions, shown to Frodo's allies at the Black Gate to falsely imply that he was captured. [3] Gandalf took the shirt and other tokens, but refused any offer of parley. In the film Return of the King the shirt is presented by the Mouth of Sauron as false evidence that Frodo had been killed.

At the end of the story, Frodo wore the shirt at the celebrations and on the trip home. The shirt saved his life one more time when Saruman, who had taken over the Shire, tried to stab Frodo after Frodo had spared his life. [T 6]

Other mithril objects in Tolkien's writings

Searching through the closets of Orthanc, King Elessar and his aides found the long lost first Elendilmir, a white star of Elvish crystal affixed to a fillet of mithril. Once owned by Elendil, the first King of Arnor, it was an emblem of royalty in the North Kingdom. After Elendil fell in the War of the Last Alliance, his eldest son Isildur ascended to the throne. On his journey back to the northern capital of Arnor, his retinue was ambushed by orcs. Isildur tried to escape by jumping into a river but was killed by arrows. Saruman may have found his body there, and taken the Elendilmir from it. A replica was made, which was used by Isildur's successors up to the re-establishment of the kingdom (reunited with Gondor) by Elessar. He thus used both, using one or the other on certain occasions.

Nenya, the Ring of Power possessed by Galadriel, was made of mithril.

The guards of the citadel of Minas Tirith wear helmets of mithril, "heirlooms from the glory of old days". As a result, the citadel guards are the only soldiers in Gondor that still bear the emblems of the lost kings during the days of the stewards.

As Aragorn's ships sail up the Anduin to relieve the besieged Minas Tirith during the War of the Ring, the standard flying on his ship shows a crown made of mithril and gold.

After Gimli became lord of Aglarond, he and his Dwarves forged great gates of mithril and steel to replace the gates of Minas Tirith, which were broken by the Witch-king of Angmar.

Greatest of all, according to legend, was the ship of Eärendil, Vingilótë, which he sailed into the sky, making the gleam of truesilver visible to the world as the Evening and Morning Star. From the Song of Eärendil , written by Bilbo and Aragorn, "A ship then new they built for him of mithril and of elven-glass". [T 4]

Significance

The scholar of English literature Charles A. Huttar writes that mithril was the only mineral that Tolkien invented. He notes that in Tolkien's underworld, whether the caves at Helm's Deep or the mines of Moria, "beauty and terror [were] side by side". [4] Greed for mithril could unleash the terror of the Balrog, by digging too far down into the dark realm, but at the same time, he writes, the metal was prized for both its beauty and its usefulness, yielding the best armour. He compares the Dwarves' greed for mithril with that of the Barrow-wights for treasure, and indeed that of the dragons in The Hobbit and Beowulf for gold. In his view, these symbolise the evil "inherent in the mineral treasures hidden in the womb of Earth", [4] just as mining and metalwork are associated with Satan in John Milton's Paradise Lost (I, 670-751). Huttar sums up with a reflection on Tolkien's moral vision in the story: just as the characters at every point have to decide for good or ill, so objects have the potential to be both good and evil: "Mithril is both the greatest of treasures and a deadly bane." [4]

Outside Tolkien's writings

Fiction

The name "mithril" or similarly spelled variations (such as mith, mithral, mythril) is used in fictional contexts influenced by Tolkien. [5] Mithral is mentioned in R.A. Salvatore's Forgotten Realms books on the world of Dark Elves, Dwarves, and other Underdark worlds. Mithril is a metal tier in the online MMORPG RuneScape and its old school variant, as well as World of Warcraft [6]

A pastiche of the metal called "milrith" appears in the fantasy-parodying video game Simon the Sorcerer (1993), where a woodcutter is troubled by magically enchanted trees in his vicinity and needs an axehead of this supposedly hardest metal of all to practice his profession again. [7]

Heavy metal music with expressly fantasy-themed lyrics is sometimes called "heavy mithril". [8]

Research

Since 2003, mithril has been the "inspiration and metaphor for the MIThril project", a "next-generation wearables research platform" at MIT. [9]

See also

Related Research Articles

Gandalf is a protagonist in J. R. R. Tolkien's novels The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. He is a wizard, one of the Istari order, and the leader of the Fellowship of the Ring. Tolkien took the name "Gandalf" from the Old Norse "Catalogue of Dwarves" (Dvergatal) in the Völuspá.

Thorin Oakenshield is a fictional character in J. R. R. Tolkien's 1937 novel The Hobbit. Thorin is the leader of the Company of Dwarves who aim to reclaim the Lonely Mountain from Smaug the dragon. He is the son of Thráin II, grandson of Thrór, and becomes King of Durin's Folk during their exile from Erebor. Thorin's background is further elaborated in Appendix A of Tolkien's 1955 novel The Return of the King, and in Unfinished Tales.

Bilbo Baggins Protagonist in J. R. R. Tolkiens The Hobbit

Bilbo Baggins is the title character and protagonist of J. R. R. Tolkien's 1937 novel The Hobbit, a supporting character in The Lord of the Rings, and the fictional narrator of all Tolkien's Middle-earth writings. He is selected by the wizard Gandalf to help Thorin and his party of Dwarves to reclaim their ancestral home and treasure, which has been taken over by the dragon Smaug. Bilbo sets out in The Hobbit timid and comfort-loving, and through his adventures grows to become a useful and resourceful member of the quest.

Boromir is a fictional character in J. R. R. Tolkien's legendarium. He appears in the first two volumes of The Lord of the Rings, and is mentioned in the last volume, The Return of the King. He was the heir of Denethor II and the elder brother of Faramir. In the course of the story Boromir joined the Fellowship of the Ring.

The Rings of Power are fictional magical artefacts appearing in Tolkien's legendarium. Primarily featured in his epic high fantasy novel The Lord of the Rings (1954), these magic rings are depicted as the objects essential in the Dark Lord Sauron's plan to rule over Middle-earth as the "Lord of the Rings". All but one of the twenty rings were created by the Noldorin Elven-smiths of Eregion in the Second Age, led by their ruler Celebrimbor under the deception of Sauron, who guided them in their craft under the guise of a fair-looking emissary named Annatar.

<i>The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring</i> 2001 fantasy film directed by Peter Jackson

The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring is a 2001 epic fantasy adventure film directed by Peter Jackson, based on the first volume of J. R. R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings. The film is the first instalment in The Lord of the Rings trilogy. It was produced by Barrie M. Osborne, Jackson, Fran Walsh and Tim Sanders, and written by Walsh, Philippa Boyens and Jackson. The film features an ensemble cast including Elijah Wood, Ian McKellen, Liv Tyler, Viggo Mortensen, Sean Astin, Cate Blanchett, John Rhys-Davies, Billy Boyd, Dominic Monaghan, Orlando Bloom, Christopher Lee, Hugo Weaving, Sean Bean, Ian Holm, and Andy Serkis. It is followed by The Two Towers (2002) and The Return of the King (2003).

"The Quest of Erebor" is a work of fantasy fiction by J. R. R. Tolkien, posthumously published by his son Christopher Tolkien in Unfinished Tales (1980). This work explains how and why Gandalf arranged for the retaking of the Lonely Mountain, an adventure recounted from the perspective of Bilbo Baggins many years before in Tolkien's The Hobbit.

In J. R. R. Tolkien's epic fantasy novel The Lord of the Rings, the Battle of the Morannon or Battle of the Black Gate is an event that took place at the end of the War of the Ring. Gondor and its allies send a small army ostensibly to challenge Sauron at the entrance to his land of Mordor; he supposes that they have with them the One Ring and mean to use it to defeat him. In fact, the Ring is being carried by the hobbits Frodo Baggins and Sam Gamgee into Mordor to destroy it in Mount Doom, and the army is moving to distract Sauron from them. Before the battle, a nameless leader, the "Mouth of Sauron", taunts the leaders of the army with the personal effects of Frodo and Sam. Battle is joined, but just as it seems the army of Gondor will be overwhelmed, the Ring is destroyed, and the forces of Sauron lose heart. Mount Doom erupts, and Sauron's tower, Barad-dûr, collapses, along with the Black Gate. The army of Gondor returns home victorious, the War of the Ring won.

Balin is a fictional character in J. R. R. Tolkien's legendarium. He is an important supporting character in The Hobbit, and is mentioned in The Fellowship of the Ring.

The following outline is provided as an overview of and topical guide to the real-world history and notable fictional elements of J. R. R. Tolkien's fantasy universe:

Weapons and armour of Middle-earth are those of J. R. R. Tolkien's Middle-earth fantasy writings, such as The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings and The Silmarillion.

Scholars and critics have identified many themes of The Lord of the Rings, a major fantasy novel by J. R. R. Tolkien, including a reversed quest, the struggle of good and evil, death and immortality, fate and free will, the danger of power, and various aspects of Christianity such as the presence of three Christ figures, for prophet, priest, and king, as well as elements like hope and redemptive suffering. There is also a strong thread throughout the work of language, its sound, and its relationship to peoples and places, along with moralisation from descriptions of landscape. Out of these, Tolkien stated that the central theme is death and immortality.

Gollum is a fictional character from J. R. R. Tolkien's Middle-earth legendarium. He was introduced in the 1937 fantasy novel The Hobbit, and became important in its sequel, The Lord of the Rings. Gollum was a Stoor Hobbit of the River-folk, who lived near the Gladden Fields. Originally known as Sméagol, he was corrupted by the One Ring and later named Gollum after his habit of making "a horrible swallowing noise in his throat".

Gimli is a fictional character from J. R. R. Tolkien's Middle-earth legendarium, featured in The Lord of the Rings. A dwarf warrior, he is the son of Glóin, a character from Tolkien's earlier novel, The Hobbit.

Aragorn is a fictional character from J. R. R. Tolkien's legendarium. He is one of the main protagonists of The Lord of the Rings. Aragorn was a Ranger of the North, first introduced with the name Strider. He was eventually revealed to be the heir of Isildur, King of Gondor. He was a confidant of Gandalf and part of the quest to destroy the One Ring and defeat the Dark Lord Sauron. He fell in love with the immortal elf Arwen, as told in The Tale of Aragorn and Arwen; her father, Elrond, forbade them to marry unless Aragorn became King of both Arnor and Gondor.

Elrond Half-elven is a fictional character in J. R. R. Tolkien's Middle-earth legendarium. He is introduced in The Hobbit, and plays a supporting role in The Lord of the Rings and The Silmarillion.

Frodo Baggins is a fictional character in J. R. R. Tolkien's writings, and a central figure in The Lord of the Rings. Frodo is a hobbit of the Shire who inherits the One Ring from his cousin Bilbo Baggins and undertakes the quest to destroy it in the fires of Mount Doom in Mordor. He is mentioned in Tolkien's posthumously published works, The Silmarillion and Unfinished Tales.

In the fiction of J. R. R. Tolkien, Moria, also named Khazad-dûm, is an ancient subterranean complex in Middle-earth, comprising a vast labyrinthine network of tunnels, chambers, mines and halls under the Misty Mountains, with doors on both the western and the eastern sides of the mountain range. Moria is introduced in Tolkien's novel The Hobbit, and is a major scene of action in The Lord of the Rings.

One Ring Magical ring that must be destroyed in J. R. R. Tolkiens The Lord of the Rings

The One Ring is a central plot element in J. R. R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings (1954–55). It first appeared in the earlier story The Hobbit (1937) as a magic ring that grants the wearer invisibility. Tolkien changed it into a malevolent Ring of Power and re-wrote parts of The Hobbit to fit in with the expanded narrative. The Lord of the Rings describes the hobbit Frodo Baggins's quest to destroy the Ring.

References

Primary

This list identifies each item's location in Tolkien's writings.
  1. 1 2 3 4 Tolkien, J. R. R. (1937), Douglas A. Anderson (ed.), The Annotated Hobbit , Boston: Houghton Mifflin (published 2002), ISBN   0-618-13470-0
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Tolkien, J. R. R. (1954), The Fellowship of the Ring , The Lord of the Rings , Boston: Houghton Mifflin (published 1987), "A Journey in the Dark", ISBN   0-395-08254-4
  3. Unfinished Tales, Part 3, Ch 1, The Disaster of the Gladden Fields: Notes, Note 31
  4. 1 2 Tolkien, J. R. R. (1954), The Fellowship of the Ring , The Lord of the Rings , Boston: Houghton Mifflin (published 1987), "Many Meetings", ISBN   0-395-08254-4
  5. Tolkien, J. R. R. (1954), The Fellowship of the Ring , The Lord of the Rings , Boston: Houghton Mifflin (published 1987), "The Great River", ISBN   0-395-08254-4
  6. Tolkien, J. R. R. (1955), The Return of the King , The Lord of the Rings , Boston: Houghton Mifflin (published 1987), "The Scouring of the Shire", ISBN   0-395-08256-0

Secondary

  1. 1 2 Barberis, Danièle (2006). "Tolkien: The Lord of The Mines – Or A Comparative Study Between Mining During the Third Age of Middle‐Earth by Dwarves and Mining During Our Age by Men (or Big‐People)". Minerals & Energy - Raw Materials Report. 20 (3–4): 60–68. doi: 10.1080/14041040500504392 . ISSN   1404-1049.
  2. Kocher, Paul (1974) [1972]. Master of Middle-Earth: The Achievement of J.R.R. Tolkien. Penguin Books. p. 95. ISBN   0140038779.
  3. Kocher, Paul (1974) [1972]. Master of Middle-Earth: The Achievement of J.R.R. Tolkien. Penguin Books. p. 141. ISBN   0140038779.
  4. 1 2 3 Huttar, Charles A. (1975). Lobdell, Jared (ed.). A Tolkien Compass. Open Court. pp. 137–139. ISBN   978-0875483030.
  5. "mithril". OxfordDictionaries.com . Retrieved 12 April 2019.
  6. "Mithril Ore - Wowpedia". Gamepedia. Blizzard. Retrieved 6 June 2020.
  7. Simon the Sorcerer (video game). Adventure Soft. 27 September 1993.
  8. Gibbons, William (2018). "Little harmonic labyrinths: baroque musical style on the Nintendo Entertainment System". Recomposing the Past: Representations of Early Music on Stage and Screen. Routledge. Chapter 8. ISBN   978-1-315-26825-5.
  9. "Frequently Asked Questions". MIThril project. Massachusetts Institute of Technology . Retrieved 19 November 2012.