The mysterious king Bladorthin

and his political identity in the Third Age

by Lalaith<andreas.moehn@wiesbaden.netsurf.de>

 

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"... the spears that were made for the armies of the great King Bladorthin (long since dead), each had a thrice-forged head and their shafts were inlaid with cunning gold, but they were never delivered or paid for..." (H, xii)

This single phrase, not even a complete phrase, is all that was ever told about King Bladorthin. He does not reappear in any genealogy or chronology of the kingdoms of Middle-earth written ever since. The reason simply is that Tolkien subsequently forgot about him, and so he involuntarily created a mystery that attracted the adventurous spirit of many a researcher. Who was then the ominous King Bladorthin and how may he be fitted into the Tale of Years?

To make matters worse, Thorin Oakenshield boasted that "Kings used to send for our smiths, and reward even the least skillful most richly" (H, i). It is certainly reasonable to assume that Bladorthin was one of these kings; the others may well have been the Dwarf-kings of the Iron Hills. For fitting one otherwise unaccounted kingdom into Middle-earth is already a challenge, but fitting several is a nightmare!

The what

Let us start with the most simple question: What does the name Bladorthin actually mean?

In structure it looks very much like early Goldogrin or Gnomish, the ancient Elvish language that was to become Noldorin and finally Sindarin. In this context, we may divide the name into the following components::

The entire name may therefore be literally interpreted as "wide earth-grey" or more loosely "the Grey One of the wide lands". If Bladorthin had wanted to sign an official document in contemporary Qenya he would probably have rendered his name as *Palursindo. We do not know what he connected with that: his name of ascension may had no specific meaning to him or simply recalled a hero of old legends.

Note: In the early drafts of H, Bladorthin was not an ominous king but the name given to the wizard. This seems quite apt, for in meaning it would then be the direct precursor of Mithrandir, "the Grey Pilgrim". Shall we assume that king Bladorthin's father had actually met Gandalf and was so impressed that he named his son after the wizard?

A German critic once wanted to interpret the change of the wizard's name as the first step towards the more serious mood of LR. After all, a name hardly concealing the meaning "Bladder-thin" did not appear quite fitting to an Ainu...

The who

To which one of the Speaking Peoples did king Bladorthin belong? Many have assumed that he was an Elf (CG, CO) because of his Elvish-style name. There are, however, sound arguments against this hypothesis:

  1. The kings and kingdoms of the Light Elves are all accounted for. Bladorthin could then only have been a Dark Elf. But Dark Elves would not use names that are legible in Gnomish or Sindarin.
  2. Elven kingdoms of the Third Age did not maintain armies to be equipped, so there would have been no need for Bladorthin to order a delivery of such size.
  3. No Third Age Elf, however dark, would have ordered his arms from Dwarves.
  4. The fall of a major Elf-king (long since dead) would have been remembered much more profoundly in the histories.
  5. The custom of using Elvish names is known not only from Elves but also among the Dúnedain of Arnor and Gondor. They rarely occur as well among other peoples under the cultural influence of Westernesse (p.e. Girion Lord of Dale).
  6. The indiscriminate use of the title "king", rather than "Elven-King" or "Dwarf-king", suggests that he was of the kind most familiar to the hobbitish author and the reader.

All of this strongly speaks for the assumption that Bladorthin was: a Man.

Another quite common hypothesis suggests that Bladorthin had been king of Dale. But this can be discarded on the following grounds:

  1. Dale is never called a kingdom before the coronation of Bard. The distinction made between lord and king of Dale is not restricted to H but continues into the drafts of TY where it is stated that Smaug destroyed the "town and lordship of Dale". (YT).
  2. Exiled descendants of kings usually keep a title such as prince or chieftain. Bard had none.
  3. If "the great king Bladorthin" was an ancestor of Girion, then Bard would no doubt have claimed descendancy from him, maybe even his heirloom - including the famous spears. This would have become an important issue during the siege of Erebor.

Note: In the time it was published, it seems that H meant to evoke the impression that Hobbiton was located in a living kingdom. This is suggested by a comment that in the Trollshaws "they have seldom even heard of the king" (H, ii). Bladorthin may perhaps have been meant to be one of this king's ancestors. The prologue of LR refers then to a hobbitish proverb relating to the Kings of Arnor (long since dead): "Yet the Hobbits still said of wicked things and wild folk (such as trolls) that they had not heard of the king." Maybe. But in H, it was a Dwarf who said that.

The when

According to KR, there were two periods of settlement in Erebor: once between 1999 and 2210 TA, another time during the reign of Thrór II., grandfather of Thorin Oakenshield, from 2590 to 2770 TA, ending by Smaug's invasion. The first settlement seems to have stayed rather isolated and did not maintain any visible contact to the outside (non-Dwarvish) world. The second one, however, had intense trade connections as Thorin Oakenshield himself witnessed. It is thus evident that Bladorthin was a contemporary of Thrór II.

We may further narrow down the age of Bladorthin's reign by examining the reasons why the thrice-forged spears (often misinterpreted as thrice-forked, i. e. tridental) were not delivered. Both Tyler and Foster believe that his death prevented the trade, and Foster tells us even that his heirs may then have refused payment. But there is nothing stated anywhere to suggest this bold assumption. All we are told is that the forging took place long ago and that Bladorthin has died in the meantime. Is it then not natural to assume from the context that it was the very arrival of Smaug what prevented delivery? In that case, we may conclude that Bladorthin was alive in the year 2770 TA.

The where

Where then was his realm? In the 28th century, both Dúnedainic kingdoms had long ago collapsed. Vidugavia, self-proclaimed king of Rhovanion, and his kingdom were memories from the distant past, and it is not demonstrated that he wasn't first and last member of his dynasty at once. The only Mannish kingdom existing was Rohan. But Rohan did not record a king named Bladorthin or a king using an Elvish name at all. Moreover, Rohan was too removed to allow for trade with Dwarves (and not that Dwarves were considered viable trading partners at all).

A possible clue to its location may be found in a statement that Gimli gave about Thrór II: "he and his folk prospered and became rich, and they had the friendship of all Men that dwelt nearby. For they made not only things of wonder and beauty but weapons and armour of great worth ... Thus the Northmen who lived between Celduin (River Running) and Carnen (Redwater) became strong and drove back all enemies from the East" (KR).

It is evident that the chief trading routes both of Erebor and the Silvan Elves ran along the courses of the Celduin and Carnen that offered themselves as natural roads down to the Sea of Rhûn: To each other they did not maintain contact for historical reasons, and West and North there was no potential trading partner available. So was Bladorthin's kingdom then located between the two rivers? Was the lordship of Dale maybe just a province of Bladorthin's realm?

Many arguments speak against this assumption. If there was a king of such power in the vicinity of Dale, certainly he could have provided military and humanitarian aid. There is no indication of either, and the Men of Dale took refuge in Esgaroth but not in Bladorthin's realm. Second, when king Brand "whose realm now reaches far south and east of Esgaroth" (FR) brought the same territory under his control he would have met opposition from the living successor of Bladorthin; but since there was none, what would in the meantime have happened to the kingdom? The obvious conclusion is that the lordship of Dale was the central authority among the Northmen between Celduin and Carnen, and Bladorthin lived outside that region.

The realm of the great king Bladorthin thus has to meet the following criteria:

  1. It was inhabited by Men who were not under the sway of Sauron.
  2. It was or had been exposed to the influence of Númenórean civilisation long enough that its rulers acquired the habit to assume throne-names in an Elvish language.
  3. In 2770 TA, it was peaceful and prosperous enough that its king could order a set of Dwarvish arms and wait for delivery after completion. It was, however, exposed so much to danger that the need to equip troops with this set was felt necessary.
  4. It was located close enough to Dale to maintain trade and transport routes with Erebor but not close enough that it would get into military conflict with the Bardings.
  5. It was strong enough to be self-sustainant but not strong enough to provide military support against Smaug or even give humanitarian aid.

There is only one place which fulfills all these requirements: Dorwinion.

The why

Like Bladorthin himself, Dorwinion was only mentioned once in the published history of Middle-earth in connexion with a wine that the Silvan Elves imported via Lake-town: "The wine, and other goods, were brought from far away, ... from the vineyards of Men in distant lands. ... This wine, it would seem, was the heady vintage of the great gardens of Dorwinion." (H, ix) On the map of Middle-earth as drawn by Pauline Baynes, Dorwinion is situated at the northwestern coast of the Sea of Rhûn, and this location makes it pre-destined for the throne of the great king Bladorthin. There were indeed Men who were not Sauronians, the export of wine "and other goods" brought considerable wealth, and it lay well outside of the Bardings' sphere of influence while having access to the region via the Celduin-Carnen river system. Moreover, it was not only exposed to Númenórean culture, it had been a province of Gondor during more than a millenium! Even after regaining independence it had stayed sufficiently númenórised that in late TA it was - other than p.e. Esgaroth - still known by an Eldarin name only.

What is known of Dorwinion from other sources allows us to reconstruct some of its history, if only on a crude level. It first appeared in the annals, not yet by its proper name, in the First Age when the migrating "Folk of Hador discovered that a part of their host from whom they had become separated had reached [the Sea of Rhún] before them, and dwelt at the feet of the high hills to the south-west", (PR) from which sprang the Bëorians; they however left the country soon due to increasing pressure by "Servants of the Dark" (PR). The mentioned hills were part of the land of Dorwinion; the name as written on Pauline Baynes' map stretched only across the plain north of them, but in this location (48 and 50 degrees of northern latitude, see A Meridional Grid on the Middle-earth Map) the southern slopes of hill ranges provide much more direct sunlight and thus better wine-growth than level ground; compare the wineyards of the Rheingau and Mosel valleys at the same latitudes. But wine did not yet grow there. When the ships of Númenór accessed Middle-earth, they did import the plantation of wine among other cultural benefits: "The Númenóreans taught them many things. Corn and wine they brought, and they instructed Men in the sowing of seed and the grinding of grain, in the hewing of wood and the shaping of stone, and in the ordering of their life." (AK) But at the Sea of Rhún this left no trace for the Númenóreans never came that far inland. Vintage, however, follows migration and colonisation patterns, not trade routes. Therefore it is evident that wine growth was introduced to Dorwinion by Gondor after the land had become its easternmost province in 541 TA (TY). The Gondorians may have recognised the suitability of soil and climate due to the levelling influence of that large inland body of water while otherwise conditions would have been rather continental and subject to extreme changes of temperature. It was then probably them who gave Dorwinion its name - a Sindarin name, as has always been tradition among Gondorian cartographers, not a Northern Mannish name of the kind we otherwise use to find in Rhovanion. It was probably also in that time that regular trade with the Northmen of the later Dale territory was first established, and from that period may date the unusual Elvish-Dúnedainic name of Esgaroth, otherwise known as Lake-town.

We do not know of what peoples the local population of Dorwinion in the Second and Third Age comprised. Gondor tried to populate its territory East of Anduin with Northmen from Rhovanion who "had increased greatly in the peace brought by the power of Gondor", (KR) and yet, "the wide lands between Anduin and the Sea of Rhûn were however never effectively settled or occupied." (DM) But the people of Dorwinion were not reckoned among the Northmen - chiefly of Hadorian origin -, for the Wainriders and later "the Balchoth were destroying the last of their kin in the South" (CE) and they "never returned to their former homes". (CE) On the other hand, it is certain that the inhabitants were Middle Men of some kind, not Easterlings, for they negotiated trade with the Silvan Elves and they survived the massacre of 1248 when "Minalcar ... led out a great force, and between Rhovanion and the Inland Sea he defeated a large army of the Easterlings and destroyed all their camps and settlements east [read: west?] of the Sea." (KR) Most likely it is thus that they were still descendants from the original proto-Bëorrim of the First Age, thoroughly mixed and mingled with Easterling blood as was their wont of old, and in their remote enclave they were, like the hobbits, always overlooked by the Mighty of their ages.

According to TY, Dorwinion remained the east-march of Gondor till 1856 TA when it found itself cut off from the mainland by the expanding Wainrider empire (see The History of the Men of Darkness). Very likely, the throne was then claimed by local nobility, maybe partially of Dúnedainic origin, who continued the traditions of their old overlords such as using ascension names based on Elvish languages (unless this was a honour to their trading partners, "the Sindarin Princes of the Silvan Elves", see GC). It seems thus as if this tradition continued unbroken to at least 2770 TA and Dorwinion was never subdued nor its aristocracy routed or expelled by the Wainriders, the Balchoth, or other subsequent Easterling invasions. This may be due to the particularities of the territory: The Wainriders (as their name implies) and related peoples relied in battle on chariot and, more rarely, cavalry units. This strategy was well adapted to level ground combat in which they could deal out their high mobility, and they thus posed much a challenge to the troops of Gondor on the classical battlefields between Mirkwood and the Ash Mountains. But on sloped and elevated territory, chariots and riders are at a tactical loss against defending infantry. The hill range of southern Dorwinion thus was almost inaccessible to them, and if the defenders retreated to there they could hold out against the Easterling pursuers by a long-lasting partisan defence. No wonder thus that alone of the Middle Men of Southern Rhovanion, the people of Dorwinion survived the turmoils of the late Third Age unscathed, enjoying long periods of peace and safe commerce.

What exactly did Bladorthin then do there to earn remembrance as "the great king"? If he was alive in 2770 it is quite probable that he was already on the throne during the fatal year 2758 when Gondor and Rohan were under concerted attack by Easterlings and Southrons, the Long Winter held Middle-earth in its grasp, and there was certainly need for a great king East of Anduin. Maybe Bladorthin gained his merits by defending Dorwinion against the pressing Easterlings and by coping with the disastrous effects of the Long Winter upon his realm. And he may, when time had come, have seen the necessity to re-arm or improve the arms of his troops with the skills of Dwarvish smiths, so to maintain Dorwinion's sovereignty against the increasing menace from Rhûn: A project that, alas, stayed unaccomplished but was certainly worth to recall in the ballads and memories of the Northmen.

One interesting question will remain unanswered, though: When king Elessar reclaimed Dorwinion as east-march of Gondor in the Fourth Age, was he welcome?

And the whether

Of course it cannot be known whether Tolkien, had he ever thought about it again, would have made Bladorthin king of Dorwinion. But this is definitely the most plausible place to stow him away.

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