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The Doors of Durin, Lord of Moria. Speak friend and enter.

Those words were written in Elvish. When the Fellowship was in the Walls of Moria, Gandalf translates the password. However, Gandalf could not find out the password to open the door until Frodo tells Gandalf that it's a riddle and ask what the elvish word for friend is. But why didn't Legolas even attempt to translate it, since he's the only elf in the group?

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    I think the answer is "Because Gandalf translated it for everyone first" – amflare May 23 '17 at 18:22
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    It's not as if they were unaware of the clue. It wasn't until Frodo thought about reading it literally that they could get in. – amflare May 23 '17 at 18:25
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    The translator doesn't matter. They had to figure out the password, which was based on a tricky statement—"Speak friend and enter." Nobody thought at first that saying "friend" would be the answer. – Neithan May 23 '17 at 18:38
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    Your question seems to be based on the assumption that Legolas would have read the phrase aloud in Elvish before translating it for the party, and would therefore have triggered the doors. There's no reason to assume he would do that just because he's an elf, and if he only spoke in the common tongue, there would be no difference compared to what Gandalf did. – Steve-O May 23 '17 at 19:07
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    @amflare In the book, Merry asks where the doors are, leading Gandalf to reveal the inscription - but he doesn't ask anything about what the words are or what they mean. Frodo asks what they mean, but doesn't ask what they are in Elvish. Only Gandalf has the thought of reading the one word from the inscription in Elvish. – Matt Gutting May 23 '17 at 19:26
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Moria Inscription

'What does the writing say?' asked Frodo, who was trying to decipher the inscription on the arch. 'I thought I knew the elf-letters but I cannot read these.'

'The words are in the elven-tongue of the West of Middle-earth in the Elder Days,' answered Gandalf.

Some observations:

  • The inscription is in the Feanorian characters.
  • And is written according to the mode of Beleriand (i.e. that part of Middle-earth that was destroyed at the end of the First Age).
  • And is furthermore written in First Age Sindarin.
  • Frodo, a noted Elven scholar, cannot read the letters.
  • Legolas is an Elf of Mirkwood in the Third Age.
  • Lord of the Rings Appendix E notes changes to the usage of the tengwar between the First and Third Ages.

It is therefore reasonable to conclude that Legolas could not read the inscription either.

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Gandalf translates the entire statement, including the password, nearly as soon as the Fellowship sees them. Initially the inscription, and the entire engraving, is invisible, and Gandalf needs a spell to make it visible:

'Well, here we are and all ready,' said Merry; 'but where are the Doors? I can't see any sign of them.'

'Dwarf-doors are not made to be seen when shut,' said Gimli. 'They are invisible, and their own masters cannot find them or open them, if their secret is forgotten.'

'But this Door was not made to be a secret known only to Dwarves,' said Gandalf, coming suddenly to life and turning round. 'Unless things are altogether changed, eyes that know what to look for may discover the signs.' ...

'Look!' he said. 'Can you see anything now?' ... Slowly on the surface, where the wizard's hands had passed, faint lines appeared, like slender veins of silver running in the stone. At first they were no more than pale gossamer-threads, so fine that they only twinkled fitfully where the Moon caught them, but steadily they grew broader and clearer, until their design could be guessed.

At the top, as high as Gandalf could reach, was an arch of interlacing letters in an Elvish character.

Frodo asks Gandalf what the writing says, and Gandalf translates it:

'The words are in the elven-tongue of the West of Middle-earth in the Elder Days,' answered Gandalf. 'But they do not say anything of importance to us. They say only: The Doors of Durin, Lord of Moria. Speak, friend, and enter. And underneath small and faint is written: I, Narvi, made them. Celebrimbor of Hollin drew these signs.'

There's no particular reason for Legolas to intervene and tell everyone what the translation is: Frodo is specifically asking Gandalf, and Gandalf understands Sindarin well enough to translate. (He certainly knows what the Elvish for "friend" is. It's likely, though not certain, that Frodo does too.) It is possible, as well, that Legolas, like Frodo, doesn't recognize this particular method of writing—there were many different methods of writing the Elvish languages, and not all were mutually understandable.

No one, at this point—not Gandalf, not Frodo, not Legolas—realizes that the password is hidden in the inscription. It takes quite a while for Gandalf to realize the device:

He stepped up to the rock again, and lightly touched with his staff the silver star in the middle beneath the sign of the anvil.

Annon edhellen, edro hi ammen!
Fennas nogothrim, lasto beth lammen!

he said in a commanding voice. The silver lines faded, but the blank grey stone did not stir. ... The cliff towered into the night, the countless stars were kindled, the wind blew cold, and the doors stood fast.

Finally, Gandalf figures it out:

With a suddenness that startled them all the wizard sprang to his feet. He was laughing! 'I have it!' he cried. 'Of course, of course! Absurdly simple, like most riddles when you see the answer.'

Picking up his staff he stood before the rock and said in a clear voice: Mellon!

The star shone out briefly and faded again. Then silently a great doorway was outlined, though not a crack or joint had been visible before. Slowly it divided in the middle and swung outwards inch by inch, until both doors lay back against the wall.

Neither Frodo nor Legolas contributes to this whole process, because (although they certainly know the meanings of the words involved) they don't have any idea of the trick behind the password.

All quotes from The Lord of the Rings, Book II, Chapter 4, "A Journey in the Dark".

  • This is the answer I would have given had I access to the book right now. Well done. – amflare May 23 '17 at 19:11
  • This is the better answer, a good answer to a flawed question – Edlothiad May 23 '17 at 19:17

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