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It is incredibly clear that Orodruin (Mount Doom) was a volcano. It is a mountain with fire inside of it, and it periodically belches forth ash, smoke, and rock. This is what volcanoes do best (really, it's pretty much the only thing they do).

But I'm fairly certain that, in The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien refers to it exclusively as a mountain, never as a volcano. I believe the same is true of The Silmarillion.

What about his other works, his letters, his notes (as published in the History of Middle-earth and Unfinished Tales), etc? Does he ever call the volcano a volcano, or is it always referred to as a mountain?

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    It should be noted that we (English) didn't have a word for volcano until 500 years ago: etymonline.com/index.php?term=volcano – HorusKol Jul 28 '15 at 3:24
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    Could be tolkien didn't want to introduce a roman god into his work. He would have named it an Aulecano? – user46509 Jul 28 '15 at 5:30
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    true - but Tolkien's English in LotR was arcane even by the standards of the 1930s, to lend a sense of history/epic - for a philologist like Tolkien, volcano could have been as out of place as automobile or galleon in his text – HorusKol Jul 28 '15 at 5:45
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    @childcat15: I think the point is not whether Tolkien knew the word, but whether, in some sense, his characters would. There seems to be a definite preference in Tolkien's writing for "old" words, coming from, let's say, Middle English or earlier. As HorusKol says, this is part of how he creates the "epic" tone of the work. – Nate Eldredge Jul 28 '15 at 5:45
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    Irrelevant, but: I've often suspected that the Lonely Mountain is a volcano as well, at least in a metaphorical sense. Being "lonely" in itself is geologically improbable for a non-volcanic peak; and then there's the elemental force that lives deep in its interior and periodically comes out to burn the nearby countryside and town. It even has a diagonal shaft leading to its inner chamber. – Nathaniel Jul 28 '15 at 6:29
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No, Tolkien never uses the word "volcano" to describe Orodruin.

The closest he comes is "Mountain of Fire", an epithet (note the capitalization) that gets frequently applied to it. In Fellowship, for example (emphasis mine):

Then all listened while Elrond in his clear voice spoke of Sauron and the Rings of Power, and their forging in the Second Age of the world long ago. A part of his tale was known to some there, but the full tale to none, and many eyes were turned to Elrond in fear and wonder as he told of the Elven-smiths of Eregion and their friendship with Moria, and their eagerness for knowledge, by which Sauron ensnared them. For in that time he was not yet evil to behold, and they received his aid and grew mighty in craft, whereas he learned all their secrets, and betrayed them, and forged secretly in the Mountain of Fire the One Ring to be their master. But Celebrimbor was aware of him, and hid the Three which he had made; and there was war, and the land was laid waste, and the gate of Moria was shut.

Fellowship of the Ring Book II Chapter 2: "The Council of Elrond"

In The Silmarillion is is also referred to as a "fiery mountain":

There above the valley of Gorgoroth was built his fortress vast and strong, Barad-dûr, the Dark Tower; and there was a fiery mountain in that land that the Elves named Orodruin.

The Silmarillion V Of the Rings of Power and the Third Age

And in a draft of what would become chapter 2 of Fellowship, Orodruin is referred to as a "fire-mountain":

I can think of only one way: one would have to find the Cracks of Doom in the depths of Orodruin, the Fire-Mountain, and case the Ring in there, if he really wished to destroy it, or put it beyond all reach until the End.

History of Middle-earth VII The Treason of Isengard Chapter II "The Fourth Phase (1): From Hobbiton to Bree"

"Mountain of Fire" is actually a fair translation of "Orodruin", in fact; The Silmarillion "Index of Names" translates it as "Mountain of Blazing Fire", and from the Appendix we can see that it's comprised of the words orod, "mountain", and ruin, "red flame".

The only time I can find where Orodruin is referred to as a "volcano" is in one of Christopher Tolkien's notes:

No doubt because Gil-galad had by then discovered that Sauron was busy in Eregion, but had secretly begun the making of a stronghold in Mordor (Maybe already an Elvish name for that region, because of its volcano Orodruin and its eruptions - which were not made by Sauron but were a relic of the devastating works of Melkor in the long First Age)

History of Middle-earth XII The Peoples of Middle-earth Part 2 Late Writings Chapter 13 "Last Writings" Note 14

However, there is one interesting almost-connection. One of the few uses of the word "volcano" by Tolkien occurs in the Notion Club Papers, an abandoned novel which revolves around contemporary Oxford scholars discussing dreams of Númenor:

'Still that seems to be where you got your Volcano and Tree from. But you've given them a twist that's not in your source. You've put them in a different order, I think, making the Tree further west; and your Volcano is not a hell-smithy, but apparently a last peak of some Atlantis.

History of Middle-earth IX Sauron Defeated Part Two: "The Notion Club Papers" The Notion Club Papers Part Two

In-context, this description is quite clearly of the Meneltarma, which was believed to remain above water after the drowning of Númenor1.

What I found interesting was a note by Christopher Tolkien immediately following the paragraph, where he notes:

The passage Lowdham refers to is 33-52 [of the poem they are discussing], where when 'the smoking cloud asunder broke' they 'saw that Tower of Doom': in the earliest text of the poem the mariners 'looked upon Mount Doom'.

History of Middle-earth IX Sauron Defeated Part Two: "The Notion Club Papers" The Notion Club Papers Part Two. Note 81

While there's no context where it makes sense for this mountain to be Orodruin, I believe this writing predates Tolkien's work on Lord of the Rings, so we can see where he was getting the idea.


1 From Akallabêth:

Among the Exiles many believed that the summit of the Meneltarma, the Pillar of Heaven, was not drowned for ever, but rose again above the waves, a lonely island lost in the great waters

The Silmarillion IV Akallabêth

  • Brilliant as always, Jason. +1 – Wad Cheber stands with Monica Jul 28 '15 at 3:21
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    It seems likely that Tolkien intentionally avoided the word, just like he avoided other words that would be anachronistic or too culturally specific; in other words too out of character for the English medieval fantasy setting. – Pepijn Schmitz Jul 28 '15 at 8:46
  • volcano is also a word of Romance etymology -- another reason Tolkien might have avoided it. – Matthew Piziak Jul 28 '15 at 23:19
  • Just like mountain of fire is a direct translation of Orodruin, both of these also directly translate eldfjall, which is at least the Modern Icelandic word for a volcano (I haven't been able to confirm whether it is Old Norse as well), so it's possible the name is simply meant to mean volcano. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Aug 13 '15 at 12:14
  • @PepijnSchmitz Well, he did use words such as "guns" and "golf". – Rand al'Thor Nov 29 '15 at 23:17
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Hobbit Chapter 12: Inside Information Tolkien writes:

The dwarves were still passing the cup from hand to hand and talking delightedly of the recovery of their treasure, when suddenly a vast rumbling woke in the mountain underneath as if it was an old volcano that had made up its mind to start eruptions once again.

This of course isn't referring to Mount Doom, but it's nevertheless a reference to a volcano.

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    An interesting reference too, since The Hobbit is written in language more intermediary between the world described and the world of the reader than The Lord of The Rings which is generally closer in language to the characters' understanding. It could suggest that while there were volcanoes in the Third Age, including Mount Doom, those in the north west did not have a term for them. – Jon Hanna Jul 28 '15 at 8:45
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    Also the metaphors/similes in Tolkien's works aren't necessarily in the same “old-fashioned” tone as the rest. – leftaroundabout Jul 28 '15 at 16:01
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    In his later writing Tolkien was very sensitive to how the real-life etymology of words affected their appropriateness in his fictional contexts. That's certainly why he dropped the Native American word "tobacco", which appears several times in The Hobbit, and instead used "pipe-weed" in LOTR. It's possible he stopped using the word "volcano" for the same reason – as a Latin-derived word it has associations with modern scientific terminology, which would feel out of place in his world. – mhsmith Jul 29 '15 at 14:04
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Tolkien never calls Orodruin a volcano, but he does mention its eruption in his sketches for LotR:

The mountain begins to rumble. Bingo flies away [i.e. flees away]. Eruption. Mordor vanishes like a dark cloud. Elves are seen riding like lights rolling away a dark cloud. The City of Stone is covered in ashes.

[...]

Eruption of Fiery Mountain causes destruction of Tower.

[...]

How are Sam and Frodo saved from the eruption?

[...]

Eruption. The forces of Mordor flee and Horsemen of Rohan pursue.

[...]

Frodo and Sam, fighting with the last Nazgul on an island of rock surrounded by the fire of the erupting Mount Doom, are rescued by Gandalf's eagle

[...]

The Mountain boils and erupts.

[...]

The mountain begins to erupt and crumble.

From History of Middle-Earth series.

This leads me to believe that Tolkien clearly depicted Orodruin as a volcano, even though he'd never used that actual word for it.

1

I think the true answer is that in LOTR, Tolkien was almost always describing things from the point of view of his characters, using the language they would use - indeed, it's supposed to be "translations" of the original tongues into English. None of his characters seem to have any knowledge of modern geology*, nor of geography outside the West of Middle Earth, and thus Orodruin is the only active volcano they know of. So why would they have a general word for this thing, which as far as they know is unique? Thus Tolkien never uses the word in his "translation" of LOTR.

*OK, Gimli might, but he never discusses it other than WRT the caves behind Helm's Deep.

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