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In The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, we are introduced to Mithril, a metal described as being stronger than steel but much lighter in weight. It is also shown to have a silver sheen and the crafting of it is implied to require greater skill than steel.

Tolkien's works are often written in such a way as to create a real world mythological connection; Middle Earth is just our world in the distant past.

In modern times, aluminum and its alloys are used for many industrial purposes due to its light weight -- at 35 to 45% less weight than steel, when built to the same standards, it is considered much stronger per unit weight. It also has a nice silverish gleam when polished and was in use for over a century by the time of Tolkien's writings.

So, to the point: is there any counter proof to the theory that mithril may be the substance currently known as aluminum? I do not require a Word of God answer, but if there is one that would be great.

marked as duplicate by Rand al'Thor, Jason Baker, Wad Cheber, Null, KutuluMike Dec 11 '15 at 1:33

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  • Take the tangential discussion to chat, folks. – user1027 Dec 11 '15 at 4:27
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    Reminder: Mithril in the books doesn't violate physics; Frodo is stabbed by an Orc, not a troll, and is wearing a leather shirt under the mithril coat. – Shamshiel Dec 11 '15 at 12:59

The main description of mithril I can find is this quote from Gandalf (also quoted on the Wikipedia article for the same):

"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."

Like mithril, aluminium:

  • can be polished
  • can be beaten
  • can be made into strong alloys

However, aluminium does tarnish. Also, unlike gold, silver or copper, aluminium almost never occurs as a pure substance - it has to be refined from ore such as bauxite using energy-intensive processes unlikely to be possible in Tolkien's world.

So it's unlikely that aluminium is the same element that Tolkien calls "mithril".

  • I like(d) this, but what if we don't have any pure aluminum because it all got mined up in previous ages? Also, I don't know enough about aluminum alloys to name one that won't tarnish. – Slacklord the Terrible Dec 11 '15 at 0:17
  • I think from the above quote it's fairly likely Gandalf is referring to the pure substance of mithril, not an alloy (since there can be many different alloys of any given metal that could have widely varying properties). – user22478 Dec 11 '15 at 0:35
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    Also the scarcity of aluminium as a pure metal in nature is due to it's chemically reactive nature. This has always been the case. – user22478 Dec 11 '15 at 0:37
  • @Yasskier are you asking why the answer refers to aluminium? Because that is the question posed by the OP: is mithril the same thing as aluminium. If you mean "could mithril be the same thing as titanium" then feel free to post that as a new question. – user22478 Dec 11 '15 at 1:07

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