When Frodo, Pippin, and Sam were traveling to Rivendell, they slept under a tree the first night. Tolkien writes about a fox that wonders to himself why three hobbits were sleeping under a tree. Why can the fox think for himself? This isn't Narnia where animals can talk, but this is the only time I can think of where an animal thinks for itself in Lord of the Rings. Here is an excerpt from the book:

A fox passing through the wood on business of his own stopped several minutes and sniffed. "Hobbits!" he thought. "Well, what next? I have heard of strange doings in this land, but I have seldom heard of a hobbit sleeping out of doors under a tree. Three of them! There's something might queer behind this." He was quite right, but he never found out more about this. -Fellowship of the Ring

What other strange thing could the fox have heard of and who or what did he hear them from?

Could the Great Eagles be considered a true animal according to this? They have no equivalent in the real world of the same size, so I don't count them.

  • 5
    Haven't downvoted but what are you asking here? If the question is what other things could the fox have thought, then the answer could be anything. If the question is are there any other examples of this type of writing in Tolkiens work then there would be an answer.
    – AidanO
    May 10, 2013 at 10:45
  • 16
    "Why can the fox think for himself?" Because animals do think for themselves, even in our world. Perhaps not with words, but this is a work of fiction.
    – zipquincy
    Nov 5, 2013 at 21:04
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    While the phrasing is very elaborate, the thought itself is well within believable limits for an animal like a real-world fox, which has to be able to recognise things like predators out of their normal routine and work around them.
    – user36551
    Mar 19, 2015 at 10:27
  • Hi, I've changed "Rivendell" to "Buckland" in your first sentence, because it's more correct. As far as Frodo was concerned, at that point it was only he and Sam that were going to Rivendell. Also, they were ostensibly just going to Frodo's new house in Crickhollow.
    – Spencer
    Aug 12, 2019 at 22:11
  • Perhaps he was a straggler from Redwall
    – STO
    May 26, 2023 at 21:42

4 Answers 4


The structure of Lord of the Rings is such that it starts out in familiar (to Tolkien readers in the 1950s) Hobbit-like territory, then shifts over to higher, more mythical style more similar to the Silmarillion. A thinking fox would not be out of place in the Hobbit, so it's not really out of place here either.

Despite that, one must be careful not to read things too literally. The Lord of the Rings is feigned to be a translation of excerpts from the Red Book of Westmarch (See LotR Prologue: "This account of the end of the Third Age is drawn mainly from the Red Book of Westmarch") which was compiled by Bilbo and Frodo, and completed by Sam.

What you're therefore reading is not intended to be Tolkien's description of what actually happened, but instead Frodo's later recollection. How could Frodo possibly know that a fox is even thinking, let alone what it might be thinking? He can't; he's not a mind reader.

What we're left with is that this was not much more than a piece of authorial whimsy, perhaps signifying the first stage of a passing from familiar country where even the wild animals know that nothing unexpected ever happens (very Shire-like, that) into the larger world of myth. If so, it might be significant that Frodo's first "Road goes ever on" poem happens shortly after, followed by the first meeting with a Black Rider. But that's speculation and it's probably best to leave it at that.

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    In The Hobbit there are in fact talking animals: the ravens of Erebor. Nov 6, 2013 at 22:09
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    Problem - Frodo and the others were asleep when the fox found them. Frodo didn't even know the fox existed, so he couldn't have recalled it or imagined what the fox was thinking.
    – Wad Cheber
    May 4, 2015 at 21:26
  • 14
    He could have just made it up.
    – Miles Rout
    Sep 13, 2017 at 2:58
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    As you say, a talking fox would not be out of place in the Hobbit... but neither would it be out of place in the Silmarillion. Consider Huon the hound, of which we read in chapter 19 of the Quenta Silmarillion, "[...] and Huon understood all that was said. For he comprehended the speech of all things with voice; but it was permitted to him thrice only ere his death to speak with words."
    – jmbpiano
    Jul 3, 2018 at 23:28
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    It's probably not Frodo who, in the frame narrative, wrote Book 1 of LotR, but Bilbo, basing on what he was told by Frodo and friends of their trip from Hobbiton to Rivendell. Bilbo's diary, which became The Hobbit, is similarly full of such affectations and asides. Aug 12, 2019 at 11:32

Various animals and creatures are shown to be more intelligent in the Third Age than we'd expect now - the Great Eagles, wargs (from The Hobbit), Shelob, the spiders of Mirkwood (responding to insults and suchlike in The Hobbit), Bill the Pony, and Gandalf's horse (I forgot the name) - even crows act as spies for Saruman. That's not even getting into the "sub-human" (intelligence-wise, not species) orcs and trolls, and other creatures like Beorn and the Ents.

Of course, it could also be a literary device - a way to mark the fact that the three hobbits are exhibiting unusual behaviour for their society. It isn't too surprising that, at the early chapters of the book, Tolkien slipped into story telling targeted more for young people as this book (as in, all three volumes) did take close to 20 years to complete, and he targeted his writing for his children as much as for publication.

  • 4
    I think it is indeed merely a literary device, like you say in your second paragraph. BTW, orcs aren't "sub-human", intelligence-wise! They show standard intelligence; it's just that they are evil and petty.
    – Andres F.
    May 10, 2013 at 12:25
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    First off - this is a fantasy book: the rules of our world do not apply. Secondly - Bill was able to find his way back across many leagues over empty lands to Tom Bombadil - indicates some measure of intelligence. Thirdly - Gandalf himself praised the intelligence of Shadowfax - who may not have been a talking animal, a la Narnia, but was still more than normally intelligent horse.
    – HorusKol
    May 10, 2013 at 16:53
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    Also - citing scripture isn't really the same as actual evidence. It has now been shown that many animals have self-awareness, including dogs (loose relations of foxes) - of course, this doesn't mean they have an inner dialogue that translates readily into English, but as already mentioned: this is a fantasy book.
    – HorusKol
    May 10, 2013 at 16:59
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    @jacen.garriss: Genesis 1:26 is your research into fox’s self-awareness? I hope you’ve got other sources for figuring out stuff in life. May 10, 2013 at 20:53
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    @PaulD.Waite: while I agree Genesis 1:26 is not a good resource when the subject is actual foxes, it may in fact be relevant for foxes inside the Tolkien legendarium. Nov 6, 2013 at 22:31

Curiosity or Wariness about a new feature of his territory seems well within the ability of a real-world fox, or dog, or cat. Pet owners see similar things every day in "non-Middle" Earth.


Possibly related to this, Númenor had a lot of foxes, and some of the animals of Númenor had some level of intelligence

In c.1965 Tolkien wrote an essay called "Of the Lands and Beasts of Númenor". Portions of this essay were published in Unfinished Tales, and the remainder of it was recently published in The Nature of Middle-earth.

In this essay Tolkien discusses the fauna of Númenor and focuses a bit on how there were many foxes in Númenor, which helped to control their rabbit population and got along well with the Númenóreans.

As for the major animals, it is clear that there were none of the canine or related kinds. There were certainly no hounds or dogs (all of which were imported). There were no wolves. There were wild cats, the most hostile and untameable of the animals; but no large felines. There were a great number, however, of foxes, or related animals. Their chief food seems to have been animals which the Númenóreans called lopoldi. These existed in large numbers and multiplied swiftly, and were voracious herbivores; so that the foxes were esteemed as the best and most natural way of keeping them in order, and foxes were seldom hunted or molested. In return, or because their food-supply was otherwise abundant, the foxes seem never to have acquired the habit of preying upon the domestic fowl of the Númenóreans. The lopoldi would appear to have been rabbits, animals which had been quite unknown before in the north-western regions of Middle-earth. The Númenóreans did not esteem them as food and were content to leave them to the foxes.
The Nature of Middle-earth - "Of the Land and Beasts of Númenor"

While none of this by itself indicates intelligence, the paragraph immediately after this one talks about bears, and they seem pretty intelligent.

...The relations of the bears and Men were strange. From the first the bears exhibited friendship and curiosity towards the newcomers; and these feelings were returned. ... Very few Númenóreans were ever killed by bears; and these mishaps were not regarded as reasons for war upon the whole race. Many of the bears were quite tame. They never dwelt in or near the homes of Men, but they would often visit them, in the casual manner of one householder calling upon another. At such times they were often offered honey, to their delight. ... At times the bears would perform dances for the entertainment of their human friends. ... To those not accustomed to the bears the slow (but dignified) motions of the bears, sometimes as many as 50 or more together, appeared astonishing and comic. But it was understood by all admitted to the spectacle that there should be no open laughter. The laughter of Men was a sound that the bears could not understand: it alarmed and angered them.
The Nature of Middle-earth - "Of the Land and Beasts of Númenor"

And then the paragraph after that discusses squirrels, also with somewhat similar terms:

The woods of Númenor abounded in squirrels, mostly red, but some dark brown or black. These were all unafraid, and readily tamed. The women of Númenor were specially fond of them. Often they would live in trees near a homestead, and would come when invited into the house.
The Nature of Middle-earth - "Of the Land and Beasts of Númenor"

It seems that there may be a theme above Númenor's animals being intelligent, including their foxes, and perhaps that is related to this fox.


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