Everything That Happens In The Tolkien Universe After The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies
First things first: Yes, even before Peter Jackson sat down to make the film, we knew what would happen after The Hobbit. The Lord of the Rings, all 480,000-plus words of it, was already a fairly excessive sequel to one children’s book. But if you know anything at all about John Ronald Reuel Tolkien, it won’t surprise you that it doesn’t end there.
[Editor’s note: Obviously, the following contains spoilers for The Hobbit, but some are concealed by spoiler tags. It’s been a book for about 80 years though, so. You know.]
I know what you’re thinking: “I sat through fifteen endings of Return of the King, and there is nothing left to happen in that story; not now, not ever, not in any possible universe. “ Well, friend, I’m here to tell you that you’re wrong. There are appendices. There are sequels. There is a complete world history, several languages, and so many more names per character than are strictly necessary. Middle Earth lies in a big word, and Tolkien covered every last scrap of it. Starting from The Hobbit’s end, we have:
1. Merry and Pippin become scary, and marry hobbits with boring names
If you’re someone who’s only seen The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings on film, then you’ve definitely missed out on some prime teenage reading. But you’ll also have no idea about the Scouring of the Shire. The evil takeover and eventual rebellion of the Shire is probably meant to show how no place is safe from the impact of war, but the real main point is that Merry and Pippin have become baddasses. They’ve got the kind of confidence that comes from making friends with Kings, they’re wearing amour and swords, and all those Ent drinks have even made them taller than the other hobbits. They basically stroll into the Shire like they own the place, organize a military rebellion and, then – what? What do you do after saving the world? Well, Professor Tolkien has some ideas about that, and they start with getting married. Again, this story continuation is hidden in the appendices of Return of the King, but Pippin marries a lady named “Diamond” and Merry marries Estella.
Those are the best names he could come up with? Seriously, this is someone so obsessed with names that he takes pains to note that Merry’s name in “the original language of the Shire” was Kalimac, an “unmeaning Buckland name” whose shortened form sounded like “jolly, or gay.” Yet all he tells us about hobbit lady names is that, “To their maid-children hobbits commonly gave the names of flowers or jewels.” This is not the level of development I have been led to expect.
2. Legolas and Gimli elope.
That is, honestly, the best way to put it. A long time after the events of The Hobbit and The Lord of The Rings, the two of them get into a boat and sail off into the sunset. It’s the fulfillment of a beautiful friendship, which can also be read as undeniable evidence of some sweet elf-on-dwarf loving.
But it’s also the same thing that Frodo did: “Passing into the West,” Growing up, I remember finding that mysterious, and achingly sad, especially the idea that “when that ship passed an end was come in Middle Earth of the Fellowship of the Ring.”
But now I’m nerdy enough to know exactly why that end has come. It’s all worked out, just not in The Hobbit or The Lord of The Rings or anywhere sensible. You see, Tolkien actually developed so much more; the entire history of Middle Earth and it’s world, Arda. In The Silmarillion*, his son, Christopher Tolkien, gathered this work together, and published it as the whole history of the world– from creation onwards.
At this point, you might be thinking that Legolas and Gimli have just left Middle Earth for another country in Arda, some warmer place where you can maybe play golf. But no! Frodo, Bilbo, Gimli and the rest have actually, and quite literally, left the planet.
They’ve gone to Valinor, a beautiful land that may as well be heaven, especially if you’re an elf who’s lucky enough not to die. You used to be able to sail to Valinor on a normal boat. But during The Silmarillion, some upstart Men attempt to invade Valinor (egged on by Sauron, because, of course.) God intervenes, and remakes the entire world, removing Valinor from the earthly plain, and actually making the planet round. Tolkien must be the only writer in history who can make the shape of the world sound like an absolute tragedy; after the change, he describes how travelers
that sailed far away came only to new lands, and found them like the old lands, and subject to death. And those that sailed furthest set but a girdle about the Earth and returned weary at last to the place of their beginning, and they said: “All roads are now bent.”
Still, it’s not all bad news. There’s still a mystical “Straight Road” for the elves, the occasional hero, and possibly the odd lost sailor. And, you know, at least one dwarf got to go. (I’m not 100% clear on whether Gimli, Frodo, and the rest would still die of old age in Valinor, but I am 100% certain there must be angsty fan fiction about it. )
*Note: I’m using The Silmarillion here to refer to the whole book as published, including the Quenta Silmarillion, the Akallabêth, and all the rest. Also, if I get anything wrong, I’m planning on using the “unreliable narrator” trick Tolkien pulled when he contradicted Bilbo’s story about the ring. Cool?
3. A Dwarf Kingdom in the Lonely Mountain
Now, I’m writing this before seeing the film; but, assuming they follow the plot of the book, things don’t go so well for Thorin and his nephews. The Hobbit ends with . It’s not all bad news – he’s generous with his treasure, and the surviving dwarves settle down to live comfortable lives of mining and quaffing and singing songs about the washing up. (Apart from Balin, Oin and Ori, who are next seen skeletally in Moria, having led a disastrous expedition to re-take it from the orcs and Balrogs. I guess those guys just couldn’t catch a break.)
Still, as you may have noticed, Gloin’s son grows up into the strapping young lad we know as Gimli, so at least a few of the dwarves don’t have entirely tragic lives. It didn’t feature in the films, and barely makes the appendices of the book, but the folk of the Lonely Mountain, along with the men of Dale, eventually fight Sauron’s forces in the North during the War of the Ring, splitting his strength and protecting those bits of Middle Earth that aren’t close to Gondor. As Gandalf says, without the events of the Hobbit, things could have turned out very differently: “Dragon fire and savage swords in Eriador, night in Rivendell.”
4. Magic fades from the world
One of the best decisions of the Lord of the Rings film trilogy is to open the films with that Galadriel monologue: “The world is changing.” Behind the fights and the walking, the story of the Lord of the Rings constantly comes back to change and to loss. The very first elves Frodo and Sam meet are leaving Middle Earth, and everywhere they go, no one seems to be breeding or making long term plans – not the Ents, not the elves, and even lords of men like Theoden and Denethor are in mourning for lost sons. Imagine the world of 1916, where Tolkien first wrote about Middle Earth. It was not a good place. The very first tale he wrote wass the “Fall of Gondolin,” and things basically went downhill from there.
So the Third Age, the age of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, ends with a lot of the old magic leaving the world. Even would qualify. It’s the beginning of a new age, an age that will be dominated by mankind. (One bit of good news? According to the LOTR appendices, the dwarves do eventually return to Moria before they die off.
And there was light again in deep places….until the world grew old and the Dwarves failed and the days of Durin’s race were ended.
Still, at least Balin, Ori and Oin are avenged!) And hey, Mankind gets to rule. Speaking of which…
5. Middle Earth suffers a new threat: Teenagers
Tolkien actually began a sequel to The Lord of the Rings, set 105 years after the destruction of the ring, but it never really got off the ground. He complained in a 1972 letter that his sequel had to deal with the “(it seems) inevitable boredom of Men with the good: there would be secret societies practicing dark cults, and ‘orc-cults’ among adolescents.” An elderly man by this point, I wonder if Tolkien was thinking of the various adolescent cultures that had sprung up over his life: mods, rockers, hippies and proto-punks would be pretty alienating to a child of the 1890s. Certainly, the threat of youth, as well as the uselessness of Men, hangs heavily over the thirteen pages he wrote of the sequel.
The one completed scene is strange and slightly unnerving, even though nothing more dramatic happens than a conversation. Borlas, an aged man of Gondor, is talking with his younger friend, Saelon. Their conversation begins with a long story about how Saelon was once punished for stealing apples from Borlas’s garden. Saelon plays with a knife while he talks, and as he reminisces, his tale gets angrier. He had been accused of “Orc’s Work” in the theft, and he talks about how this led him to dark thoughts, and games of “playing at Orcs” with his friends. You begin to worry for Borlas’s safety – even more so when Saelon introduces news of a conspiracy among the people of Gondor. The fragment ends with Borlas at his door, decided on meeting Saelon in secret to learn more, and fearing the darkness in his own house, with its smell of an old and remembered evil. We’re left with many unanswered questions, and no idea of where the story might be going next.
We know that Tolkien himself was unsatisfied with his sequel, saying that it proved “both sinister and depressing” and that the story would have ended up as a mere “thriller.” So we’ll never know how Tolkien’s plot would have played out, though I believe that Saelon, like Strider before him, may well have been better than he seemed – his name does, apparently, derive from one that Tolkien had previously translated as “Wise-Heart.”
6. You are born
Yes, you, right there, reading this article. You might have seen it coming, with all of the magical stuff leaving, but it turns out that Tolkien really did see his world mythology as fitting into a time before our modern world. In one of his letters he explains this decision, saying,
I have, I suppose, constructed an imaginary time, but kept my feet on my own mother-earth for place. I prefer that to the contemporary mode of seeking remote globes in ‘space’. However curious, they are alien, and not lovable with the love of blood-kin.
He goes on to say that he imagines the gap between now and, say, the end of the Lord of the Rings to be about 6,000 years, and places his own time, 1958, “at the end of the sixth age, or in the seventh.”
Now, I’m not saying Tolkien definitely believed that he was recovering a lost history, or anything like that. It’s obvious from the letter that he’s talking historical fiction, setting things a long time ago rather than a galaxy far, far away. But, well, I’m also not saying he definitely didn’t believe he was recovering a lost history of our Earth. Remember the world becoming round, and Valinor passing away? Tolkien included this in his legends as a way of exorcising a terrible and real recurring dream he had, of a wave towering over trees and green fields. He also included the dream in Lord of the Rings, and believed, too, that it had been inherited by one of his sons. Whether he believed or not, he certainly liked to think of dreams and legends intersecting with reality.
7. The world comes to a messy end
Yes, if all of the sad decline stuff didn’t clue you in, it’s sadly my job to tell you that Arda is doomed to end messily. We don’t know when, but if we take The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings as history, and accept prophecies as fact, we know it’s coming. Tolkien never actually settled on the details of his battle of battles, the “Dagor Dagorath,” and in fact left several different versions. Still, all or some of the following things may well happen, so it’s best to be prepared.
The whole party kicks off with Melkor, Sauron’s boss, ruiner of God’s plans, and the big villain of most of Arda’s history. He breaks out of prison, and starts raising hell, destroying the sun, moon, stars, or all of the above. The elves in Valinor may or may not join in this fight. Elrond’s dad comes down from the heavens (where he’s been a star, seriously), and some people who got particularly screwed over in The Silmarillion have the chance to get their revenge. Still, Tolkien never seems to have decided if the rest of the human race gets to take part in this battle, not to mention the dwarves, hobbits, ents, and various other life forms that have since passed on. After the battle, mankind does get to help God sing a new world into being, so, you know. There’s that.
There’s so much that happens after The Hobbit, and a lot of it is really crazy, and complicated, and sad. Still, thousands of years since Thorin took that trip to the Lonely Mountain, and decades since one Professor published a children’s book about hobbit living in a hole in the ground, it’s good to know that someone out there knows where we’re headed.
Save me a crack at Melkor.
Helen lives in London, works in science engagement, and still can’t believe that bit with Turin’s sister. She has written for The Toast and can be found tweeting about science and bad TV @HelenFCraig.