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In The Return of the King, Aragorn's company comes across the corpse of a man:

Before him were the bones of a mighty man. He had been clad in mail, and still his harness lay there whole; for the cavern’s air was as dry as dust, and his hauberk was gilded. His belt was of gold and garnets, and rich with gold was the helm upon his bony head face downward on the floor. He had fallen near the far wall of the cave, as now could be seen, and before him stood a stony door closed fast: his finger-bones were still clawing at the cracks. A notched and broken sword lay by him, as if he had hewn at the rock in his last despair.

What was behind the door, and why was the man so desperate to get inside? Did Tolkien ever share that information? This question has been bugging me ever since I originally read the books.

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3 Answers 3

up vote 26 down vote accepted

In an author's footnote to The Rivers and Beacon-hills of Gondor, quoted in Hammond and Scull's Readers Companion, we get the answer:

The special horror of the closed door before which the skeleton of Baldor was found was probably due to the fact that the door was the entrance to an evil temple hall to which Baldor had come, probably without opposition up to that point. But the door was shut in his face, and enemies that had followed him silently came up and broke his legs and left him to die in the darkness, unable to find any way out.

This footnote is appended to a discussion on the Halifirien, and also notes that:

The Men of Darkness built temples, some of great size, usually surrounded by dark trees, often in caverns (natural or delved) in secret valleys of mountain-regions; such as the dreadful halls and passages under the Haunted Mountain beyond the Dark Door (Gate of the Dead) in Dunharrow.

And the discussion itself notes that:

...a religious structure that was "ancient" could only have been erected by the Men of Darkness, corrupted by Morgoth or his servant Sauron.

As for why Baldor wanted to even go there in the first place: maybe he fancied a bit of temple-robbing, maybe he wanted to make a name for himself, or maybe - as I said in my comment to Richard's answer - "he was drunk and decided to do something stupid".

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From whence did Hammond and Scull's Readers Companion source that information? –  Pureferret Jan 14 at 23:54
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From the Rivers and Beacon-hills essay I linked to, published in Vinyar Tengwar - an obscure source but nonetheless a valid one. –  Jimmy Shelter Jan 14 at 23:56
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Apologies I wasn't clear if the essay was from Tolkien or Hammond and Scull's. –  Pureferret Jan 14 at 23:59
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Personally I'm slightly amused by the notion of a prince of Rohan going "dungeon-bashing". It's so unlike Tolkien, but yet there it is. –  Jimmy Shelter Jan 15 at 0:22
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I think if this answer were combined with Richard's answer, we'd have an exhaustive answer to the OP. Well done to both of you. –  FoxMan2099 Jan 15 at 6:11

The bones belonged to Baldor son of Brego - The Second King of the Mark of the First Line of Rohan. In LOTR there is a direct quote that in 2570 of the Third Age the Golden Hall of Meduseld was completed and at the feast commemorating its completion Baldor vows he would tread "The Paths of the Dead";

If these old tales speak true that have come down from father to son in the House of Eorl, then the Door under Dwimorberg leads to a secret way that goes beneath the mountain to some forgotten end. But none have ever ventured in to search its secrets, since Baldor, son of Brego, passed the Door and was never seen among men again. A rash vow he spoke, as he drained the horn at the feast which Brego made to hallow new built Meduseld, and he came never to the high seat of which he was the heir.

Aragorn and the Grey company, including Gimli and Legolas, found his bones at a door to an unknown chamber or corridor within the Paths of the Dead some 450 years later.

Ultimately Tolkien leaves the question of what's behind the door unsolved; "Whither does it lead? Why would he pass? None shall ever know!'" but given that there were no obvious signs of trauma, it may simply have been that he was locked in and had begun to succumb to starvation and thirst.

Failing that (and given that the 'Paths of the Dead' are guarded by "Dead men out of the Dark Years") there's a genuine possibility that Baldor's final intention was to escape unspeakable horrors chasing him rather than out of a desire to get at the treasure that allegedly lay within.

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+1, in other words: "he was drunk and decided to do something stupid". –  Jimmy Shelter Jan 14 at 19:31
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Going for a wander around an unmapped set of caves and tunnels would certainly fall into that category, yes. –  Richard Jan 14 at 19:32
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"hey bubba, hold my mead, wouldn't want to spill it!" –  JohnP Jan 14 at 20:01
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@Richard - apologies but I've actually located an answer to this one. –  Jimmy Shelter Jan 14 at 23:45
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@JimmyShelter You have indeed. Well done :-) –  Richard Jan 15 at 7:24

There's no real answer to this, the remains he found was that of Baldor... the lines after this states according the wikia, since I haven't read that book in ages...

http://lotr.wikia.com/wiki/Baldor

'Hither shall the flowers of simbelmynë come never unto world's end,' he murmured. 'Nine mounds and seven there are now green with grass, and through all the long years he has lain at the door that he could not unlock. Whither does it lead? Why would he pass? None shall ever know!'"

Nobody ever knows / finds out what is beyond the door.

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