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Were the boulder tossing rock giants(shown in the film) beings, or metaphors for the dangers(described in the book) of traveling the high mountain passes that Bilbo and company utilized on their journey to the Lonely Mountain?

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    I'm assuming you are asking if the giants pictured in the movie is some kind of metaphor for the dangers described in the book. In any case would be good to clarify
    – RMalke
    Apr 8, 2013 at 17:07
  • I always read the passage in the novel as being an actual event, but who knows what was meant?
    – The Fallen
    Apr 8, 2013 at 17:10
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    Which is kind of how they fit into the book, so it would be easy to interpret them as metaphors. I think this is more of a matter of opinion unless some other Tolkien writings surface
    – The Fallen
    Apr 8, 2013 at 18:01
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    No, it wouldn't. Using "stone giants" as metaphors for "thunderstorm" is not an allegory.
    – The Fallen
    Apr 8, 2013 at 18:19
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    @SSumner Not only it's not an allegory, it could actually work as a kenning of sorts. Prof Tolkien was of course very familiar with kennings; for example, note how in Beowulf, "breaker of rings" is a kenning for "king"! Um, rings... I wonder where I heard of them? ;)
    – Andres F.
    Apr 8, 2013 at 21:17

5 Answers 5

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They are Giants. They appear in the original book, though I'm not sure how accurate the movie depiction is, so they are not strictly metaphors but an actual event.

Elsewhere in the book, Gandalf mentions giants again in reference to the goblin tunnels.

"I must see if I can't find a more or less decent giant to block it up again," said Gandalf, "or soon there won't be getting over the mountains at all."

So giants are real beings. Whether they are the same beings that Bilbo and company encounter isn't clear though.

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I tend to take the passage in the book literally: there were giants in Middle-earth, and they were out at play during the storm. Gandalf's later comment about "a more or less decent giant" supports this reading.

It may seem odd that this is the only appearance of giants in Tolkien's work, but it need not be so odd.

In earlier plot projections for Lord of the Rings Treebeard was explicitly intended to be a giant. These are covered in HoME 6 (Return of the Shadow) and I'll quote two extracts:

I was caught in Fangorn and spent many weary days as a prisoner of the Giant Treebeard.

In this one the capitalization is in the original, showing that it's intended to be read as a proper noun.

though there is no dragon (so far) there is going to be a Giant.

This passage is also present in Letter 35, and again the capitalization is in the original.

It's therefore clear that at least at this stage, Giants were viewed as a reality in Tolkien's world.

An interesting note attached to the development of the Treebeard chapter, and given in HoME 7 (Treason of Isengard) reads:

Difference between trolls - stone inhabited by goblin-spirit, stone-giants, and the 'tree-folk'.

This was roughly the point at which the concept of Ents emerged (there are other jottings about the Elves "making" them, and about tree-folk that have become tree-like), and the intention seems to have been that giants are still recognised as a distinct species.

In the finished work two possible readings exist:

  • Either "giants" is just a generic term for any large humanoid that doesn't fit into one of the other species divisions, or:
  • Giants do exist (i.e as a distinct species) but they just don't come into any of the other stories.

I'm not currently aware of any other writing that has bearing on this topic.

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    And it's funny that Treebeard and co. did in-fact throw boulders etc.
    – Möoz
    Nov 7, 2014 at 0:28
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I read the book several times, (long ago, I think it's about time to read it again). But all the times I read it as huge thunderstorm and landslides are happening, and the rock falls could be due to giant tossing giant stones on them. But with all the mess and noise from thunders and falling stones, low visibility and bad angle to look up, no one saw any giant, and even though Gandalf mentions giants, it does not guarantee they were there attacking the company.

I think that, in a world full of superstition, but without proof in this specific case, it is impossible to say.

PS: On a personal note, I would have liked it better if the movie used a subtler interpretation, like that given in the book. I also think it was some excuse for animation and computer effects.

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    I agree about the CGI being way over done. I thought that whole scene in the movie quite boring, despite all the action. Ditto for the goblin tunnel chase. Apr 8, 2013 at 20:45
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    @SystemDown The goblin tunnel chase? Oh. You mean the Middle-Earth movie version of the Death Star Trench Run. Jackson had to have tunnel chase trench run. You can't have a video game without a Goblin Tunnel Chase Death Star Trench Run. It's something like rule #3 on the action movie to video game checklist. Maybe even rule #1. Jun 3, 2016 at 21:52
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In the source novel, their actions are described thusly;

When he peeped out in the lightning-flashes, he saw that across the valley the stone-giants were out and were hurling rocks at one another for a game, and catching them, and tossing them down into the darkness where they smashed among the trees far below, or splintered into little bits with a bang.

The film's commentary track (between Director Peter Jackson and Screenwriter Pippa Boyens) isn't any more enlightening than that. Commenting on why the giants are fighting...

PJ: Yeah, I always wondered why these giants dislike each other so much. It must be something very personal has gone on.

PB: Well, maybe it's in their nature.

[both laugh]

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  • Oh P.J....in the book they weren't fighting. "hurling rocks at one another for a GAME" - he sure does love his fight scenes ;)
    – NKCampbell
    Jun 3, 2016 at 19:07
  • @NKCampbell - I forgive him. He did the best he could with the source material. It's really easy for the author to show intent (simply by putting words on the page explaining a character's actions) but incredibly difficult for a filmmaker who has to stop the story dead in its tracks to show the same.
    – Valorum
    Jun 3, 2016 at 19:18
  • ...especially when trying to turn one book into three movies..... :}
    – NKCampbell
    Jun 3, 2016 at 20:39
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Note: this answer largely copied from an answer I wrote on Literature Stack Exchange; since that question is very related to this one, I figured I'd place it here as well for reference. (The relevant answer is linked below.)


As other answers have noted, they are stone-giants, mentioned explicitly in The Hobbit (the book):

When he peeped out in the lightning-flashes, he saw that across the valley the stone-giants were out and were hurling rocks at one another for a game, and catching them, and tossing them down into the darkness where they smashed among the trees far below, or splintered into little bits with a bang.

This of course begs the question - what precisely are stone-giants, and do they show up elsewhere?

To quote my answer on Literature Stack Exchange (all which follows is a quote):

From Robert Foster's A Guide to Middle Earth which is generally very definitive:

STONE-GIANTS Creatures of great size and strength living in the high passes of the northern Misty Mountains. The stone-giants are mentioned only in The Hobbit, and may be no more serious than Golfimbul.

Rather unpromising. There's also the section in 'The Ring Goes South' (this is a second-hand quote; I don't have my physical copy on me to double check this)

"It may have been only a trick of the wind...,but the sounds were those of shrill cries, and wild howls of laughter. Stones began to fall from the mountain-side, whistling over their heads, or crashing on the path besides them...

'We cannot go further tonight,' said Boromir. 'Let those call it the wind who will; there are fell voices on the air; and those stones are aimed at us.'

'I do call it the wind,' said Aragorn. 'But that does not make what you say untrue. There are many evil and unfriendly things in the world that have little love for those that go on two legs, and yet are not in league with Sauron, but have purposes of their own. Some have been in this world longer than he.'

It does not explicitly name stone-giants, but it has the generally correct location/appearance.

The Tolkien Gateway page has a pretty solid exposition - notable tidbits:

A local legend among the indigenous people of Gondor told of giants making the White Mountains, to keep Men out of their lands by the Sea. One of them, Tarlang, tripped, and broke his neck. The other giants did not clean up his body, which became incorporated in the land instead. The giant's neck became Tarlang's Neck, his head Dol Tarlang, and the stones he was carrying Cûl Veleg and Cûl Bîn.

So perhaps there is some backstory to the giants; relatedly, this is very reminiscent of the Norse creation myth with Ymir. It could be that incorporating giants was part of Tolkien's tendency to 'retell' mythologies in a consistent fashion - to talk about Norse myth without mentioning giants would be rather difficult.

There's also the mentioned theory from The Annotated Hobbit on the same Tolkien Gateway page:

Douglas A. Anderson's annotations in The Annotated Hobbit: Revised and Expanded Edition express the opinion that stone-giants are a variety of troll.

Later sections of the wiki article talk about and support an alternate theory (and the one I think makes the most sense) - the stone-giants are a sort of evil/harsher Ent variant:

Giants originally had a larger part in the legendarium. In one early manuscript, the giants are counted among the Úvanimor, servants of Melko. In another manuscript, the giants are counted among the Earthlings, and are divided between the "wood-giants" (Qenya ulbandi) and "mountainous-giants" (Qenya taulir).

And then:

in early versions of The Lord of the Rings it was the Giant Treebeard who held Gandalf captive, not Saruman [...] As Christopher Tolkien notes, "Ent" comes from an Old English word for "giant"

[And, as mentioned in another answer on this question]:

An interesting note attached to the development of the Treebeard chapter, and given in [History of Middle Earth] 7 (Treason of Isengard) reads:

Difference between trolls - stone inhabited by goblin-spirit, stone-giants, and the 'tree-folk'.

So again, this sort of backs up this relation between Ents and giants that may have never been quite resolved.

But the same article talks about alternate theories where giants are a sub-race/variant of Men (sort of like hobbits, but in the other direction).

Last but not least, I will mention the similarity to C.S. Lewis' giants in The Silver Chair - since the two wrote together, there may have been some inspiration in either direction; that said, Tolkien regularly got annoyed by Lewis' relatively haphazard approach to worldbuilding. (Frankly, it's just as likely both drew on similar source material - Norse myth.)

So to sum up: stone-giants fall prey to Tolkien's tendency to write and rewrite large amounts of lore. The 'true' answer could be buried in some of his unpublished papers; far more likely is simply that there are multiple answers, much like the myth Tolkien was trying to emulate.

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