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In the chapter Of the Rings of Power and the Third Age in The Silmarillion, after the final battle of the War of the Last Alliance, the following passage occurs:

And northward, beyond the Falls of Rauros and the Gates of Argonath, there were as yet other defenses, powers more ancient of which Men knew little, against whom the things of evil did not dare to move, until in the ripening of time their dark lord, Sauron, should come forth again. And until that time was come, never again after the days of Eärnil did the Nazgûl dare to cross the River or to come forth from their city in shape visible to Men.

If you look at the maps in The Lord of the Rings, the forest of Fangorn is just north (and west) of the Falls of Rauros and the Gates of Argonath, which is where Treebeard and the other Ents live; Ents are ancient and Men know little about them, so Ents could be the "defenses".

However, the Elven kingdom of Lothlórien also fits the description, both in terms of the location and in terms of the powers there being ancient and mysterious to Men. So maybe the "defenses" are the Elves of Lothlórien.

Or maybe the "defenses" are something else entirely.

Is there any way to determine what "defenses" Tolkien has in mind here?

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I can suggest two possible theories: Galadriel's realm of Lothlórien, or Ulmo's power in the water. Galadriel maintained a guarded realm in Lothlórien, aided by her Ring Nenya, a barrier which not even Sauron's perception and will could break. I think this is the most likely explanation for the "defenses."

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    Unless sauron went himself to lorien
    – user31546
    Jun 28, 2015 at 12:42
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All opposing forces seem to be both West & North of Mordor, beyond the Anduin.

All of "The Three" were west and/or north. Galadriel in Lórien, Elrond in Rivendell, and until Gandalf came along, there was Círdan in the Grey Havens.

Given the evolution of the books, it could be that there were other more mysterious powers who are powerful on their own, but generally passive or which do not have an organized nature like the hosts of the west. Don't forget there is Tom Bombadil, Goldberry "The River's Daughter" and even weirder stuff like "Old Man Willow".

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The passage seems to suggest things which are not described or known, so I don’t think it’s either Fangorn or Lothlorien but more obliquely some forms of power of spirits which which haven’t had described. It’s both fascinating and frustrating as it would be awesome to know what these might be. I think much more likely other forms of Bombadil type guardians than Galadriel or Treebeard from the way it’s written and probably linked to this passage;

Many things of beauty and wonder remained on earth in that time, and many things also of evil and dread: Orcs there were and trolls and dragons and fell beasts, and strange creatures old and wise in the woods whose names are forgotten; Dwarves still laboured in the hills and wrought with patient craft works of metal and stone that none now can rival. But the Dominion of Men was preparing and all things were changing, until at last the Dark Lord arose in Mirkwood again.

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