Accounting for the Numbers of the Arda
© 2005 Michael Kennedy
"Tall ships and tall kings
Three times three,
What brought they from the foundered land
Over the flowing sea?
Seven stars and seven stones
And one white tree."
(Gandalf to Pippin en route to Minas Tirith)
Arda, Tolkien's immense and immeasurable created world, revolves around his invented
"The stories were made rather to
provide a world
for the languages than the reverse." (J.R.R. Tolkien, Letter 165. )
if the languages and words were responsible for the creation of the world, then
it's numbers that make it go round and round. In fact, without numbers,
Middle-earth as we know it would not exist. Tolkien was meticulously
mathematical. From the duration of the Ages to the precise time of day, from
moon phases to birthday invitations, Tolkien was a numbers man through and
through. Literally, from the very genesis of Arda's creation, he used
numbers to conjure a sense of power, to add emphasis to an otherwise
"There was Eru, the
One, who in Arda is called Ilúvatar"
(Ainulindalë - The Silmarillion)
could also contend that Tolkien used numbers, much like his language, to anchor
Middle-earth in the sea of authenticity, providing us with a calculus that we
can both assimilate and comprehend. What follows is a by the numbers,
comprehensive (although not completely exhaustive) compendium of the use of
numbers throughout his works. In
general the more prominent entries are discussed with the addition of a few of
the more obscure, yet highly interesting occurrences.
- The One - As mentioned
above 'Eru, the One', is most
appropriately the first number that is countable. The simple, yet profound
title leaves the reader with no doubt as to Eru''s lofty status. 
- The One Ring - the single, most
weighty ring that ever marred the shores of Middle-earth:
"One Ring to rule
them all, One Ring to find them,
One Ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them." 
- One-eyed Sauron - Sauron''s monocular view of
the world was not helpful to his ultimate cause.
- The Two Trees - As far as the
flora of Arda is concerned, nothing comes close to the hallowed and
intensely radiant trees, Laurelin and Silpion. Planted on the mound of
Ezellohar in Valinor, these trees
became entangled with the perilous path that the unfolding history of Arda
was to follow. 
- The Two Towers - Tolkien never
sought his books to be published as a trilogy, but rather as six books
published as one volume. Unwin the publisher decided otherwise and so
Tolkien was obliged to come up with three new titles. This particular
title never pleased Tolkien:
"I am not at all happy about the title `The Two Towers'. It must if
there is any real reference in it to Vol II refer to Orthanc and the Tower of
Cirith Ungol. But since there is so much made of the basic opposition of the
Dark Tower and Minas Tirith, that seems very misleading." (Letter No.
- The Two Kindreds - The Elves and the
- The Two Watchers - A couple of
vigilant vassals of Sauron that guarded the gate of the Tower of Cirith
Ungol. Between them they had six heads and twelve eyes! 
- Three Rings (plus their three keepers) - Nenya, Narya and Vilya; the only three Rings of
Power to be unsullied by Sauron. Their magical power preserved the realms
of the Elves in Middle-earth until the destruction of the One Ruling Ring.
- Three Silmarils - Fëanor, the Noldorian Elf, made the most-prized jewel in the history
of Middle-earth. Not content with one he made three of these glorious
jewels in which was sheltered the light of the Two Trees, a feat that was
never to be repeated. 
- Three Themes of Ilúvatar - It took Eru only three themes to
conjure up the world of Arda, with the third theme being arguably the most
important as it revolved around the Children of Ilúvatar, whose destiny was hidden from the Valar and Melkor. 
- Three Kindreds - The three hosts of the Elder (Vanyar, Noldor and
Teleri) who accepted the invitation
of the Valar and embarked on the arduous journey to Valinor. 
- Three Houses of Men
- The Edain or Men were divided
up into three houses. 
- Three Farthing Stone - This curiously named central-Shire stone could be
found by the side of the East Road and marked the precise point where the
borders of the Eastfarthing, Westfarthing and Southfarthing of the Shire
met. The stone stood about five miles southeast from Bywater and exactly
fourteen miles west from Frogmorton. 
- Three Hunters - This
self-proclaimed title was first coined by Aragorn when he and Legolas and
Gimli, embarked on a seemingly fruitless pursuit and rescue of the two
hobbits Merry and Pippin. 
- Three Tresses - Gimli requested
one only but Galadriel parted with three strands of her hair. 
- Thrihyrne - The three peaks
of Ered Nimrais behind the Hornburg in which Helms Deep could be found.
- Three Trunks of
Hirilorn - The great beech tree that Luthien was imprisoned in by her father
Thingol, so as to prevent her from aiding Beren. Not only that but her
little cubby had three corners and three windows and she sang three songs
of magic to grow her hair! 
- Huan - A handy hound who
was given the gift of speech three times during his lifetime. 
- Fingolfin - Three times Fingolfin was crushed to his
feet by Morgoth and three times he rose again. 
- Three Towers - On the Tower
Hills in western Middle-earth there were three towers, the tallest of
which - Elostirion, was home to a palantir. 
- Three Blind Mice - Or to be more
accurate - the three mice that blind! In the original Tale of Beren and
Luthien, Tevildo the Cat ordered Beren to hunt and capture three mice. He
took three days but his efforts were futile, earning only a single nip to
one of his fingers. 
- Three Stretches - Perhaps trivial
but Tevildo the Cat stretched three times while listening to Luthien''s tall tale about
Huan''s fictional predicament. 
- Maeglin - Tuor''s herculean throw
caused Maeglin''s body to 'smote' the hill of Amon
Gwareth three times on it's way to the bottom. 
- The swans that Tuor
followed during his journey to Gondolin originally numbered three but
eventually Tolkien increased their number to seven. 
- Three Eagles went to
the rescue of Sam and Frodo from Mount Doom. 
- Four hobbits - Sam, Frodo,
Pippin and Merry were the four hobbits that were instrumental in Sauron's destruction.
- Four Ages - the History of
Aman and Middle-earth was divided into four ages, although it''s only the first
three that we know a great deal about.
- Four Farthings - The Shire was
divided up into four geographic regions. 
- The Five Istari - These five important
Maiar were of course the all-important wizards that came to Middle-earth
in the Third Age. These were Gandalf, Saruman, Radagast, Alatar and
- Battle of the Five
- This crucial battle was fought in the Third Age (III 2941) in the valley
of Dale and on the slopes of Erebor. On one side were the Elves, Men and
Dwarves, while the losing side was made up of the orcs and wargs.
Unfortunately, for the Eagles and Beorn
- the tide-swinging avians and bear-man, they were not included in
this celebrated title. 
- As mentioned above
Tolkien wrote The Lord of the Rings as six books.
- The Eldar seemed to
prefer working with sixes and twelves. [6 - appendix]
- An ideal day for a
Hobbit was one in which he or she dined on six meals. 
- The number of
dwarves that was required to lift an aging, portly Bombur! 
Genesis 2:3 "God blessed the seventh day and made
because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done."
question, the number seven (followed by the number '"three"') is the most frequent
number that Tolkien uses. It''s also a number that has historical and
religious significance. In almost every
system of antiquity there are frequent references to the number seven. The
Pythagoreans called it the perfect number, three and four, the triangle and the
square, being the perfect figures. The Arabians had seven Holy Temples. In
Persian mysteries there were seven spacious caverns through which the aspirants
had to pass. The Goths had seven deities, as did the Romans, from whose names
are derived our days of the week. There were also seven ancient planets. In
Scriptural history there is a frequent recurrence of this number (528
occurrences in fact) where it abstractedly symbolises completion, fullness, or
perfection. Richard Trench,
the famous Arch-Bishop of 19th Century Ireland, who was renowned for
not only his biblical studies but also his philology, said of the number seven:
"There is no doubt that it claims, throughout Scripture, to be
considered as the covenant number, the sign and signature of God's covenant
relation to mankind, and above all to that portion of mankind with which this
relation is not potential merely, but actual-namely, the Church." (Commentary on the Epistles to the Seven Churches in Asia.
Revelation i-iii. (London, 1861))
It is no wonder then that
this sacred Christian number is reflected throughout Tolkien's works.
Gondolin, especially 'The Fall of
can be found in The Book of Lost Tales 2,  deserves it''s own special seven
- Gondolin was also
known as the City of Seven Names, although this must be the seventh name.
The remaining six names are: Gondobar, Gondothlimbar, Gondolin,
Gwarestrin, Gar Thurion, and Loth.
- The seven Gates of
Gondolin - Wood, Stone, Bronze, Writhen Iron, White marble, Gold, and
- The Folk of the
Heavenly Arch who fought valiantly but in vain during the Fall of
Gondolin, bore shields embedded with seven gems - ruby, amethyst,
sapphire, emerald, chrysoprase, topaz, and amber.
- During the Fall of
Gondolin each man of the Hammer of Wrath took seven enemies in payment for
the loss of their own lives. Compare this to Genesis 4:15 ''But the Lord said to him, "Not so, if anyone
kills Cain, he will suffer vengeance seven times over."'
- Seven Balrogs - In a
late marginal note Tolkien wrote about Balrogs: '"There should not be supposed more than say three
or at the most seven ever existed."
- Seven Dragons of
Fire contributed to Gondolin''s downfall.
- Idril watching her
father Turgon''s fate unfold before her eyes
exclaimed: "Woe is me whose
father awaiteth doom even upon his topmost pinnacle; but seven times woe
whose lord hath gone down before Melko and will stride home no more!"
- Seven chains - After fleeing
Gondolin, Tuor and company came to lofty Cristhorn, home of Thorondor,
whose eyries were ''nigh seven chains'' from the path they
- The Tale of Earendel
was originally going to be divided into seven parts: 'It is a mighty tale, and seven times shall
folk fare to the Tale-fire ere it be rightly told;'
- There are several
examples of Tolkien wavering between the number three and the number
seven. This includes the number of mariners that accompanied Ælfwine in his quest for the West.
- Sauron - At the end of the
Second Age the last Alliance of Men and Elves, under the direction of
Gil-galad and Elendil, overcame Sauron but only after a seven year siege
of Barad-dûr in Mordor.
- Eowyn was instructed
to stay in bed for a further seven days during her recovery period.
- Aragorn''s crown was adorned
with seven gems of adamant.
- Saruman referred to
the ''crowns of seven kings'' in his address to
Gandalf at Isengard.
- The Valacirca - a constellation
made up of seven stars, also called ''The Sickle of the
Valar'', that was set in
the night-sky as an ever-present notice to Melkor and all his vassals,
that the Valar were untouchable. This has a biblical echo too;
Revelation 1:20 '"The seven stars are the angels of the seven
churches". These seven stars
were a common motif in Middle-earth appearing on Aragorn's standard and
his sword Anduril.
- Tuor followed seven
swans from Nevrast to the halls of Vinyamar.
- The Seven Sons of Fëanor and Nerdanel - Maedhros, Maglor,
Curufin, Celegorm, Caranthir, Amrod and Amras.
- Seven Fathers of the
Dwarves - Aulë''s stoney stoic
creations who went on to found the Seven Houses of the Dwarves as well as
the Seven Hoards.
- Seven Rivers - These waters are
to be found in the south of Gondor and include the Anduin. The remaining
six are Lefnui, Morthond, Ciril, Ringló, and Gilrain-Serni.
- Ossiriand - The region of
Beleriand that actually means ''seven-rivers land''.
- The Seven Seeing
Stones or the Palantíri. In fact, if you
include the Master Stone there were actually eight stones wrought by Fëanor.
- Haldir said to Frodo
on Cerin Amroth that he feared Dol Guldur was inhabited again, '"and with power
- Under instruction by
Turgon, Círdan the shipwright
built seven ships to sail to Valinor, only one of which ever returned to
- Eärendil was seven years old when Morgoth attacked Gondolin.
- Seven ships built by
Círdan were sent to Valinor by Turgon -
none made it and only one returned to Middle-earth.
- 'The Lords of the
Valar are seven; and the Valier, the Queens of the Valar, are seven also'.
- The Seven Names of Túrin - An identity crisis for sure. No one in
the history of Middle-earth had as many pseudonyms as this man: Túrin - Neithan - Gorthol - Agarwaen -
Adanedhel - Mormegil - Wildman of the Woods. Never happy with
his name the end result was seven names, which in anyone''s lifetime is more
- The Seven Wounds of
Fingolfin - In the David and Goliath duel between Fingolfin and Morgoth,
Fingolfin managed to inflict seven wounds with his sword Ringil causing
Morgoth to cry out in anguish seven times.
- Highdei (or Friday) was the
7th and chief day of the week in Shire-reckoning.
- Treebeard claimed he
could of watched Saruman in Orthanc for ''seven times the
years in which he (Saruman) tormented us''. This was not to be
however, for seven days after he let Saruman depart, Gandalf and company
arrived at Isengard to discover Treebeard''s heart of warm
soppy sap had set him free.
- This number even
occurs outside Arda, in the adventures of a little dog called Rover in Roverandom.
During one of these adventures while visiting the Pacific and Atlantic
Magician Arterxarxes in his ocean abode: "He was looking into
a vast ballroom with seven domes and ten thousand coral pillars."
Aratar - The title bestowed on the eight greatest of the
Valar and Valier, these being Manwë, Varda, Ulmo, Yavanna, Aulë, Mandos, Nienna
- Nine Rings - The nine rings
given to men, worn by the nine Nazgul who were indirectly responsible for
the Fellowship numbering nine.
- Nine Fingered Frodo - The ultimate
destruction of the One Ring relied upon a somewhat gnawing Gollum, who
unceremoniously detached Frodo''s ring-finger.
- The One Ring was
held or worn by nine historical individuals. In chronological order these
were: Sauron, Isildur, Deagol, Sméagol, Bilbo, Frodo,
Gandalf, Tom Bombadil and Samwise Gamgee.
- In actual fact the Aratar were originally nine,
and included Melkor, but he was unceremoniously removed from this 'order'
after his inevitable insurgence:
"Among [the Valar] Nine were of chief power and
reverence; but one[Melkor] is removed from their number, and Eight remain, the
Aratar, the High Ones of Arda..."
- The spiders of Mirkwood could grow up to ten feet
- The number of the Company that embarked on the
treasure hunt in The Hobbit.
- Samwise Gamgee was not just a hero and a model
Mayor - he and Rose were fruitful procreators - turning out thirteen
- Fifteen Birds in Five Fir Trees - at least this is how the goblins in The Hobbit
saw Bilbo, Gandalf and the thirteen dwarves when they had them surrounded.
- Number of Hobbits
killed in the Battle of Bywater.
- Total number of
Rings of Power (ie. The 1 + 9 + 7 + 3).
- From the bottom of
Orthanc to the great door above was a flight of 27 steps.
- Coming of age for a
Hobbit occurred at the rambunctious age of 33. Almost certainly by design,
this is also the age that Jesus Christ was said to have been when he was
crucified and resurrected.
ONE HUNDRED AND FORTY-FOUR
- This notorious
number we meet early on in the preparations for Bilbo and Frodo''s unique birthday
party. The number of people invited totalled one gross (144), or as
Belladonna Took described it: '"a nasty vulgar
- The Quenya word 'yén', meaning 'year', actually lasts for
144 of our years. (Appendix G)
- The Thousand Caves
(Menegroth) - This refuge of Thingol was found on the southern banks of the
River Esgalduin, in the Forest of Region. Whether there were a thousand
caves exactly or not, we will never know since this part of the world is
now under the sea.
REFERENCES: Works by J.R.R.
(1) The Book of
Lost Tales. Part I. Edited by Christopher Tolkien. London: George Allen
& Unwin, 1983.
(2) The Book of
Lost Tales. Part II. Edited by Christopher Tolkien. London: George Allen
& Unwin, 1984.
Silmarillion. First Edition London: George Allen & Unwin 1977; cited here from second edition, 1983.
(4) The Hobbit.
First edition London: George Allen & Unwin 1937; cited
here from fourth edition, 1981.
(The Lord of The
Rings) in three volumes:
(5) I, The Fellowship of the Ring. First
edition London: George Allen & Unwin 1954; cited
here from fourth edition, 1981.
(6) II, The Two Towers. First edition London:
George Allen & Unwin 1954; cited
here from fourth edition, 1981.
(7) III, The Return of the King. First edition
London: George Allen & Unwin 1955; cited
here from fourth edition, 1981.
(8) Letters of
J.R.R. Tolkien. Edited by Humphrey Carpenter with the assistance of Christopher
Tolkien, London: George Allen & Unwin 1981; cited here from second edition,
(9) Roverandom. First
Edition London: HarperCollins Publishers, 1998.
(10) Morgoth's Ring:
The Later Silmarillion, Part One: The Legends of Aman. Edited by
Christopher Tolkien, London, Harper Collins, 1993.
(11) The Adventures
of Tom Bombadil. With illustrations by Pauline Baynes. London: George Allen
& Unwin, 1962.
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