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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]


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



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.


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]


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


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]


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

See also

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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


  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". . 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.