Now that I am almost done reading The Lord of the Rings, I am curious about the apparent lack of interest many characters and races seem to show towards their friends and relatives.

In The Fellowship of the Ring, Legolas says his kin in Mirkwood haven't visited the Elves of Lorien for many decades, and don't even know if they are still there. Gimli says his people knew that something terrible had happened to Balin and his expedition to Moria, but it appears that no one bothered to go and see if any of Balin's crew had survived. When Bilbo leaves Bag End, he leaves certain items behind with tags attached naming the people who he has chosen to inherit them; these people- his family and friends- swarm like flies, stealing other items, switching tags so they can get the things they want rather than the things Bilbo left them, and Frodo is eventually forced to post guards to make sure no one steals stuff. Most of the gifts Bilbo leaves are in fact snarky references to how the recipients had slighted him in the past- for instance, Lobelia Sackville-Baggins, who once stole some silverware from him gets a set of spoons. And of course, Bilbo seems to have few reservations about walking away from most of the people he was closest to for most of his life, even turning his farewell party into an excuse to mess with their heads by suddenly disappearing and slipping away into the night.

In The Two Towers, we learn that everyone who loves Theoden and hates Wormtongue has nonetheless allowed Wormtongue to reduce the king to a sniveling old wretch who has no mind of his own. Only Eomer makes any attempt to break Wormtongue's stranglehold over Theoden, and we have reason to believe that Eomer was more interested in protecting his sister Eowyn than protecting the king himself.

In the appendices to The Return of the King, in "The Tale of Aragorn and Arwen", we learn that Arwen spent at least 20 years in Lorien, away from her father and brothers in Rivendell; during this time, it seems (as described in the answer to this question), neither Elrond nor his sons ever mentioned Arwen to Aragorn, who Elrond was raising as his own son.

"I marvel at Elrond and your brothers; for though I have dwelt in this house from childhood, I have heard no word of you!. How comes it that we have never met before? Surely your father has not kept you locked in his hoard?"
- The Return of the King, Appendix A, "The Tale of Aragorn and Arwen"

In the main text of ROTK, Beregond allows his young son to remain in Minas Tirith when he knows full well that Sauron is about to attack the city and kill everyone inside. The people of Gondor clearly love Faramir, but they seem to have no problem with the now-insane Denethor burning him alive rather than offering him medical attention. Denethor's servants are perfectly willing to set their lord and his noble son on fire for no apparent reason.

These people seem to display a shocking lack of affection and interest in their friends, family, and acquaintances. Did Tolkien ever mention this strange state of affairs in his letters? Why do his characters seem so unconcerned and unattached to their friends and family members?

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    Let us continue this discussion in chat. Commented May 24, 2015 at 23:03
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    To a 6000-year-old elf, 20 years is like 2 months to a 50-year-old human.
    – Martha
    Commented May 26, 2015 at 15:31
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    @Martha - it took Arwen only a little more than 20 years, and only a couple of meetings with Aragorn, to decide that she would rather be with him and die than live forever. Legolas says that to elves, time moves both faster AND slower than it does for humans. We don't know what 20 years feel like to an elf. But they can make significant decisions in about 20 years, like saying "I don't want to be immortal", which is the most important decision you can make.
    – Wad Cheber
    Commented May 26, 2015 at 17:55
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    @Martha Also, Arwen is about 2500 years old if I recall correctly. Even if we use your math, it took her 2 months to decide she would die in less than a year rather than live forever. And she made this decision based on spending a few seconds with a man - a few seconds was enough for her to say "I will die before the end of the year because I love you so much." Your logic is flawed.
    – Wad Cheber
    Commented May 26, 2015 at 17:57
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    The text makes clear that, although there were ironic presents, the majority were thoughtful gifts to deserving hobbits. Commented Apr 6, 2018 at 15:20

4 Answers 4


To answer the only directly and objectively answerable question, Tolkien seems never to have discussed "this strange state of affairs" in his letters.

That said, I believe you're misremembering and misinterpreting parts of the book. To go through your various points more or less in sequence:

Elves of Mirkwood and Lórien

Legolas does state that the Elves of Mirkwood have not visited Lórien for a long time, but he doesn't state that they "don't even know if they are still there." Instead his comment is

We hear that Lórien is not yet deserted. ... Nevertheless its folk are seldom seen.

The lack of communication between the two kingdoms is easily explained, though: Mirkwood was much more concerned with its neighbors to the east and northeast, with whom it had longstanding trade agreements, than with its neighbor to the southeast which was largely pursuing an isolationist policy.

Erebor and Moria

Again I think you're misremembering something here. Gimli makes a comment while the Fellowship is in Moria to the effect that he's now unsure that Balin ever came there. It is Frodo, not Gimli, who states (on seeing Balin's tomb) "He is dead then ... I feared it was so." (Fellowship of the Ring, Book II, Chapter 4, "A Journey in the Dark")

Gimli's father Glóin states during the Council of Elrond that for a while Erebor had occasional messages out of Moria, all with good news; then the messages stopped. No one, in fact, says that "his people knew that something terrible had happened." One could speculate that the dwarves concluded that no news was good news, or alternatively that Daín was indeed concerned, but that as a king he could not justify sending a rescue expedition. We are not told what he thought; or on what basis, assuming he did consider a rescue mission, he might have turned down the idea; or what his emotions surrounding any such decision might have been.

Either way, I don't see textual evidence supporting the idea that the dwarves of Erebor, individually or collectively, felt little or no affection for their friends, acquaintances, and compatriots in Moria.

Bilbo's party and the aftermath

You state that

Bilbo seems to have few reservations about walking away from most of the people he was closest to for most of his life

But in fact, we're told that

he had no close friends, until some of his younger cousins began to grow up

He seems to have been in fact tolerated rather than liked by his family and his neighbors. He was "on visiting terms with his relatives", we hear, but it seems no more than that.

The only real friend he seems to have had was Frodo; and he was very concerned about leaving him. As for "messing with their minds" by disappearing, the narrator tells us that people take it as a joke. One in very poor taste, but a joke nevertheless—to which people respond with indignant surprise, but not (generally speaking) with anger or by taking offense. We're told:

It was generally agreed that the joke was in very bad taste.

Even the Tooks (with a few exceptions) thought Bilbo's behaviour was absurd.

For the moment most of them [them ambiguous between the Tooks and the hobbits generally] took it for granted that his disappearance was nothing more than a ridiculous prank.

Most of the guests went on eating and drinking and discussing Bilbo Baggins' oddities, past and present.

It's only the Sackville-Bagginses who appear to take umbrage or be offended; but they seem to take offense at Bilbo and Frodo generally. I see no evidence in the text that (after the initial shock) Bilbo's guests feel upset or offended by his actions.

Some of the gifts he leaves behind (all indeed labeled) do have "some point, or some joke", as the narrator says; but we're also told that

most of the things were given where they would be most wanted and most welcome. The poorer hobbits... did very well.

As far as the labels with a "point" or "joke", the one to Lobelia was definitely sarcasm. The others, though, seem no more than gentle irony pointed at some well-known characteristic, or flaw. Adelard Took was well-known for borrowing umbrellas, and Hugo Bracegirdle for borrowing books. Milo Burrows was well-known for not answering letters, and Dora Baggins for answering them. I see no evidence there of any specific "slight" against Bilbo himself, and no reason to believe that Bilbo is here exhibiting any lack of concern for friends or relatives.

(all quotes in this section from The Fellowship of the Ring, Book I, Chapter 1, "A Long-Expected Party")

Théoden and Gríma

Surely people close to Théoden do see what's happening to him;but what are they going to do? Kill Gríma and be executed for murdering one of the King's councillors? There's not a whole lot that can be done here; and remember that obedience to the king is the usual and ordinary way of showing love for him.

Théoden was in no sense enspelled. Gandalf, who above all people should know, describes Théoden as being influenced by "Wormtongue's whispering", and describes Wormtongue as "dulling men's wariness ... working on their fears", "urging" and "persuading" Théoden—not the sort of language that might be expected of one who had his subject under a spell. Gandalf specifically says, indeed, that before he escaped from Orthanc to warn Théoden

others watched and could do nothing, for your will was in his keeping.

(The Two Towers, Book III, Chapter 6, "The King of the Golden Hall")

There's no evidence that I see, then, that those around Théoden didn't love or care for him (and there's the evidence of Éowyn to set against that hypothesis). There is, however, the evidence cited above to support the thesis that those around him loved and cared for him, but were (as Gandalf states) at a loss how to act so as to both counter Wormtongue and simultaneously continue to appear loyal subjects. Éomer tried to do this and failed.

Aragorn and Arwen

It may seem surprising that Elrond apparently never mentions his daughter to Aragorn (who is not precisely being raised "as [Elrond's] own son"; we're merely told that Elrond "came to love him as a son of his own"). But then, we don't know what casual conversation among elves looks like. We never get any.

Regardless, it would be premature at best to conclude that Elrond displays any sort of "lack of interest" in his daughter. Indeed, the one of the main reasons he tells Aragorn to lay off talking to her is because he doesn't want the doom of mortality to come between them:

Then suddenly the foresight of [Aragorn's] kindred came to him, and he said: "But lo! Master Elrond, the years of your abiding run short at last, and the choice must soon be laid on your children, to part either with you or with Middle-earth."

"Truly," said Elrond. "Soon, as we account it, though many years of Men must still pass. But there will be no choice before Arwen, my beloved, unless you, Aragorn, Arathorn's son, come between us and bring one of us, you or me, to a bitter parting beyond the end of the world. You do not know yet what you desire of me."

(The Return of the King, Appendix A (I) (v), "[A Part Of] The Tale of Aragorn and Arwen")

This hardly sounds like the voice of someone who doesn't feel any interest in or concern for his child.

Again, when the time for their parting finally arrives, we're told that

Arwen Evenstar remained [at Edoras] also, and she said farewell to her brethren. None saw her last meeting with Elrond her father, for they went up into the hills and there spoke long together, and bitter was their parting that should endure beyond the ends of the world.

(The Return of the King, Book VI, Chapter 6, "Many Partings")

It is quite clear from this that Arwen and her father care deeply for one another. Why Arwen's name never came up in conversation with Aragorn is unclear; no explanation is ever given in the text. But there's enough indication in the text of the emotional ties between Arwen and her father and brothers to make it clear that the lack has nothing to do with a lack of caring.

Beregond and Bergil

Beregond does allow his son to remain in Minas Tirith; so do some other families, with whose sons we see Bergil playing. Beregond himself does not "know full well that Sauron is about to...kill everyone inside"; in fact he says himself

Gondor shall not perish yet. Not though the walls be taken... There are still other fastnesses, and secret ways of escape into the mountains.

It doesn't seem to be the case that Beregond is unconcerned about his son's safety; but he does hold on to the belief that Minas Tirith will not be completely destroyed.

Faramir and Denethor

The people of Gondor as a whole do love Faramir, true; but it is not the people as a whole who are involved with Denethor's last hours, they are Denethor's personal servants. In light, for example, of the oath the Guards (including Pippin) are required to take, it's clear that obedience is a prime requirement for them; and they may be too used to obeying orders, and too scared, to do anything but what their master asks.

Much of this answer, I realize, could be counted as "opinion-based"; but I hope to have shown that it's not necessarily, and certainly not clearly, the case that "people seem to display a shocking lack of affection and interest in their friends, family, and acquaintances."

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    It will take 24 hours or so but I will improve this answer with more quotations and chapter references. Commented May 25, 2015 at 17:10
  • Re: Balin - when Gimli learns that Balin is dead he says "Then it is as I had feared" or something like that. No news is bad news considering the circumstances (i.e., Moria was abandoned because it got weird and dangerous), and Gimli knew this.
    – Wad Cheber
    Commented May 25, 2015 at 20:00
  • Re: Killing Grima - once he is dead, the spell over Theoden would presumably be broken, no?
    – Wad Cheber
    Commented May 25, 2015 at 20:01
  • Re: Bilbo's disappearance in the middle of his speech - no, the narrative describes the people being shocked, then becoming increasingly angry. The vibe in the tent where Bilbo and his special guests had been eating becomes decidedly ugly. People took offense, for whatever reason.
    – Wad Cheber
    Commented May 25, 2015 at 20:08
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    I can discuss these, in chat, tomorrow. Commented May 25, 2015 at 20:09

I suppose this should really be a comment, but since I can't have paragraphs, or even line breaks, in comments, it'll have to be an answer.

First, as regards communication, I think you are biased by post-WWII technology, where it's no great matter to talk to someone on the other side of a continent, or drive a few hundred miles or even jump on a plane for a weekend visit. Wasn't that way for most of human history. Before the 20th century, anyone emigrating from Europe to America (or other colonies), or even moving from the eastern US to the West, would be cutting off all but the most sporadic of communication with their past lives.

Second, it's not a law of nature that a person should necessarily love the people among whom they live. As is mentioned several times, Bilbo (like Frodo, to some extent) is a misfit in Shire society, What would be more reasonable than that, when the opportunity came, he should go off to find a more congenial place? Isn't that exactly what many emigrants did in our own world?

With the Dwarves & Moria, Balin had apparently taken as much of an expedition as the Dwarves were willing to send. If it had been destroyed, then any following expedition (which would be smaller) would almost certainly suffer the same fate. So why would reasonable people send such an expedition?

With Beregond and his son, it seems fairly obvious that for all his brave words, he has a pretty good idea that the West is likely to fall eventually. That being so, it would be pointless to send his son off to some temporary safety, or for that matter, to flee himself. "...and keep hope while they may, and after hope still the hardihood to die free." Granted, it's not an attitude that everyone shares, but many have it. In our own world, consider for instance the many young people in the French Resistance during WWII.

To sum up, I think the problem is that you're taking your own attitudes, or those of the small part of society you inhabit, and presuming them to be universal. To me, Tolkien's depictions seem much more realistic, especially given the conditions in Middle Earth at the time.

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    When my mother emigrated from Hungary to America, the basic understanding was that she would never see her family again. This was in 1967. (Granted, that basic understanding turned out to be mostly untrue, but none of us can see the future.)
    – Martha
    Commented May 26, 2015 at 15:09
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    This is what I thought when reading the question as well: beyond the modern context, it also assumes an understanding of the narrative that we have as readers but that the characters would lack. In the case of Theoden and Denethor, for instance, we understand that they're being manipulated, but there's no reason the people around them would, or, even if they suspected manipulation, that they'd understand what to do about it. It's a lack of understanding, not a lack of caring, that's to blame.
    – Dan J
    Commented Dec 20, 2017 at 1:00

In the main text of ROTK, Beregond allows his young son to remain in Minas Tirith when he knows full well that Sauron is about to attack the city and kill everyone inside.

I once read a magazine from the 1960s with reminiscences from old persons. One old man wrote that when he was a little boy in the 1800s he and his brother were sent by their parents to take a wagon on a long trip to town. On that trip they met a cavalry patrol and were told that a war party of hostile Indians was in the area.

And I once read an official report of General Philip Sheridan where he complained that the army's task of protecting civilians from hostile Indians was made more difficult by the careless way the settlers let their women and children travel alone and unprotected in the dangerous west.

You may have heard of the Oregon and California Trails, where hundreds of thousands of settlers rode 2,000 miles in wagon trains to new homes on the west coast? Actually most of the settlers walked all 2,000 miles beside their wagons, including most of the children. And many thousands of those settlers, including children, died on the trip, mostly from diseases. Did the parents not love their children and not care how many of their kids survived? Or were the parents blinded by their desire to make a better life in a new land and simply assume that all their children would survive the trip?

Have you ever seen the photos that C.S. Fly made at the peace conference between General Crook and Geronimo's hostile Apaches in March, 1886? In the famous photo with everyone seated in a u shape the person on the right looks very young. He is Charles Duval Roberts (1873-1966) the not yet 13 year old son of Captain Roberts on Crook's staff. Did Roberts and Crook think there wasn't any chance of trouble during the peace conference? Surely they remembered how General Canby had been murdered by Modoc leader Captain Jack (who Crook was said to have known previously) in a peace conference in 1873 (Crook was more or less Canby's replacement as a general), but they let Charlie come anyway.

But forget about the United States. What about the United Kingdom where Tolkien lived? Lots of British people sailed to distant lands to settle in the 19th century, and many took their children with them on dangerous voyages to settle in wild and dangerous lands.

As a kid Tolkien would have heard and read many heroic stories about the many wars fought to ensure that the sun never set on the British Empire. And probably a few stories about heroic kids, too.

In the 18th century many middle class boys joined the Royal Navy as midshipmen when aged 12 or 13. In 1778 King George III approved his younger son William (1765-1837) becoming a midshipman in the navy, which encouraged many aristocratic boys to join. Prince William fought in the American Revolution and became King William IV in 1830. Thus many young aristocratic and middle class boys serving as midshipmen drowned, died of disease, and were killed in battles during the heroic years of the Napoleonic wars - along with many lower class cabin boys, of course.

Lord Henry Adam Lennonx, a son of the 4th Duke of Richmond, born 6 September 1797, was a midshipman on HMS Blake in 1812 when he fell overboard and drowned age 14.

During Tolkien's adult lifetime it was still the practice for under 18 ship's boys and midshipmen to serve on warships, even during war. On October, 1939, U-47 entered Scrapa Flow and torpedoed HMS Royal Oak. 833 members of the crew died, including over 100 midshipmen and boy seamen under 18, and Prime Minister Churchill defended the presence of boy sailors aboard warships in debate in Parliament. Royal Marine detachments aboard warships included 14-year-old buglers during World War II.

Thus it seems likely that many boys under 18 were among the 6,094 British sailors killed at the Battle of Jutland in 1916. One, Boy First Class Jack Cornwall (1900-1916), was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross.

The British army also had stories about boy soldiers in many 19th century wars.

For example, I have read a story about a British drummer boy who was captured in Spain and brought before Napoleon in the 1808-09 campaign. And I have also read a story about a drummer who was beheaded by a cannon ball at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815. And I have read a third story saying that it was the same drummer boy in both stories. If that is correct, and if he was no more than 20 in 1815, he would have been no more than 13 when he met Napoleon in 1808-09.

I have read a story about a 15 year old British ensign who was killed carrying a flag at the Battle of Quatre-Bras 16 June 1815. George Kepple, the future 6th Earl of Albemarle, was born 13 June 1799, joined the 14th Regiment of Foot in 1815, and was at the Battle of Waterloo on 18 JUne 1815 aged 16 years and 5 days.

At the disastrous battle of Isandhlwana in 1879, a few boy soldiers of the 24th regiment were killed - legend said they were tortured to death by Zulus. A war artist drew a picture of a regiment marching into Zululand later in the war that included two boy soldiers only as tall as the shoulders of the men beside them. One of the colonial volunteer units during the Zulu War had a very young officer who was only 14 years, 6 months, and 7 days old when killed, as far as I can tell. From what I hear, the boy and his father were so close they couldn't stand to be separated for the duration of the war.

And more recently in 1898 14-year-old Bugler Dunn was wounded in the Battle of Colenso and became famous.

The German Blitz or bombing attack on British cities from September 1940 to May 1941 happened while Tolkien was writing Lord of the Rings. Later London was bombed by V-1 and V-2 rockets. Millions of British civilians were evacuated from urban areas to the countryside during parts of World War II.

Many thousands of urban children were separated from their parents and moved to safer parts of Britain - some even overseas - during the war. Not all the children were excavated from the cities, though. The movie Hope and Glory (1987) is based on director John Boorman's memories of his childhood in London during the Blitz.

So I would say that the much more complete evacuation of women and children from Minas Tirith before the siege shows that Gondorian society was somewhat more protective of them than British society was while Tolkien writing LOTR.

One may claim that:

  1. Beregond was evil and a bad parent when permitting Bergil to stay in Minas Tirith during the siege.


  1. Such behavior is totally different from that of modern British people during Tolkien's era.

But IMHO the second opinion is not supported by historical facts.


If anything, it fits the relationship between the Istari. Although admittedly, out of all of them, Saruman was the one wizrd whose personality in general definitely explained his relationship with the others (jealousy towards Gandalf and general disdain for Radagast), Gandalf and Saruman were somewhat cordial if not warm up to the point that Saruman revealed his evil intent. It seemed to be the same way between Gandalf and Radagast, whom were said to be more alike. I don't get the impression that Gandalf knew the Blue Wizards all that well, although this might be based on his claim to have forgotten their names (that throwaway line in TH:AUJ). I wouldn't be suprised if Gandalf had never met them, since their mission took them out far east.

The Istari were part of the same order, but they were peers, not buddies. Radagast had every reason to avoid having more to do with Saruman than neccesary. And Gandalf was cautious around Saruman, probably picking up on Galadriel's apparent preference towards Gandalf over Saruman. Gandalf never saw any reason to introduce either Saruman or Radagast to his Hobbit friends, although there's excellent reason to believe that Radagast would get on well with them, despite his slight faux pas in regarding Shire as an uncouth name (Gandalf corrected him for his own sake:"It's The Shire. And do not put it that way if you should encounter their inhabitants"). Also, out of respect, Gandalf probably chose to give Radagast his space. The wizards clearly weren't in the habit of making social calls on each other.

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