When Tolkien refers to the wind, is he saying the direction it is blowing or the direction it has come from?

For example this passage in The Two Towers, The Departure of Boromir:

‘You left the East Wind to me,’ said Gimli, ‘but I will say naught of it.’ ‘That is as it should be,’ said Aragorn. ‘In Minas Tirith they endure the East Wind, but they do not ask it for tidings.'

I would assume they mean they don’t like the east wind as it originates in the east (Mordor) but I’ve nothing to confirm this.

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    Not a dumb question at all. That said, possibly one that would have suited ELU:SE as well.
    – Valorum
    Commented Jun 15, 2015 at 17:52
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    I always thought this passage was about Gimli trying to cover the fact that he does not know how to sing.
    – Tom Leek
    Commented Jun 15, 2015 at 22:43
  • Definitely not dumb at all. I used to be very confused by this as well. The only reason I figured it out was an epic nor'easter hitting the area where I lived when I was in high school. Nor'easters come from the northeast. For whatever reason, someone decided long ago that we should refer to winds by the direction they come from, not the direction they are blowing.
    – Wad Cheber
    Commented Jun 16, 2015 at 22:17
  • @WadCheber I wonder if the reason for that might be related to the way windvanes are shaped. When the wind blows from the north, the larger part of the windvane moves to the south, leaving the arrow pointing north. So the direction the arrow points is where the wind comes from.
    – Rand al'Thor
    Commented Jun 30, 2016 at 11:04

2 Answers 2


Wind direction generally refers to the direction it blows from, ie facing into the wind.

We can see from the preceding verses that this is also true in Middle-earth:

Aragorn first sings of the West Wind from Rohan, which is to the west of their position at Rauros.

Through Rohan over fen and field where the long grass grows
The West Wind comes walking, and about the walls it goes.

Legolas then sings of the South Wind coming from the sea, which is nearest in the south beyond Gondor.

From the mouths of the Sea the South Wind flies, from the sandhills and the stones;
The wailing of the gulls it bears, and at the gate it moans.

Aragorn sings again of the North Wind coming from Argonath to the falls, which is north to south.

From the gate of Kings the North Wind rides, and past the roaring falls;
And clear and cold about the tower its loud horn calls.

  • 1
    For linebreaks without a blank line between them, add a double-space to the end of the preceding line. More information.
    – TRiG
    Commented Jun 16, 2015 at 10:26
  • 1
    @TRiG: or use <br> tags. Commented Jun 16, 2015 at 13:24

An "east wind" would originate in the East and blow in a westerly direction. You can see Tolkien using the same sort of reference in the Unfinished Tales where he refers to Numenorian sailors preferring a west wind which obviously blows eastwards (e.g. toward Middle-earth)

Now the year came in, in which all looked for the marriage of the King’s Heir; for it was not the custom that betrothal should last much longer than three years. One morning in that spring Aldarion rode up from the haven of Andúnië, to take the road to the house of1 Beregar; for there he was to be guest, and thither Erendis had preceded him, going from Armenelos by the roads of the land. As he came to the top of the great bluff that stood out from the land and sheltered the haven from the north, he turned and looked back over the sea. A west wind was blowing, as often at that season, beloved by those who had a mind to sail to Middle-earth, and white-crested waves marched towards the shore. - Unfinished Tales - Chapter 2

And in the passage above the one you've quoted, Aragorn makes it clear which direction each "wind" comes from:

Through Rohan over fen and field where the long grass grows The West Wind comes walking, and about the walls it goes. 'What news from the West, O wandering wind, do you bring to me tonight? LOTR - The Two Towers

and in ROTK, Gwaihir states that they will outrun (fly faster than) the North Wind which is clearly blowing in a southerly direction:

'The North Wind blows, but we shall outfly it,' said Gwaihir. And he lifted up Gandalf and sped away south, LOTR - Return of the King

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    In Western culture, a wind's direction is always the direction it comes from, and an ocean current is always the direction it's going, so that an East wind and a West current are both going the same direction - West. It's a peculiarity of nautical nomenclature.
    – Joe L.
    Commented Jun 15, 2015 at 21:32
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    I expect that's a result of what people are usually interested in when talking about each. With wind, it brings the weather from from that direction. With currents, it will take your ship in that direction. Commented Jun 16, 2015 at 14:34

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