Place from J. R. R. Tolkien's legendarium
Other names Angrenost, Nan Curunír, Wizard's Vale
Description Fortress built to guard the Gap of Rohan
Location Calenardhon
Lifespan Second AgeFourth Age
Founder Gondor, during the time of Isildur
Lord Saruman

The Fellowship of the Ring
The Two Towers
The Return of the King
The Silmarillion
The History of Middle-earth

Unfinished Tales

In J. R. R. Tolkien's fictional universe of Middle-earth, Isengard ([ˈiːsɛn.gard], English /ˈzən.ɡɑrd/), a translation of the Sindarin Angrenost, was a large fortress. Both names mean "Iron fortress" (cf. German Eisen and Old English isærn = iron),[1] though Isengard has a second meaning of "West Guard".



Isengard was built in the Second Age around the tower of Orthanc by the Númenóreans in exile. Its location was at the north-western corner of Rohan, guarding the Fords of Isen from enemy incursions into Calenardhon together with the fortress of Aglarond to its south.

The river Angren (or Isen) began at Methedras behind Isengard, which also formed its northern wall. The other three sides were guarded by a large wall, known as the Ring of Isengard, which was only breached by the inflow of the river Angren at the north-east through a portcullis, and the gate of Isengard at the south, at both shores of the river.

Isengard was a green and pleasant place, with many large trees and grass fields, fed by the Angren. Orthanc stood in the exact centre.

During the early Third Age the land of Calenardhon became depopulated, and the last warden of Orthanc was recalled to Minas Tirith. Isengard remained guarded by a small company, led by a hereditary captain. Bit by bit though the messages from Minas Tirith decreased until they ceased altogether.

After Calenardhon was given to the Éothéod by Cirion, Steward of Gondor, and became Rohan, Isengard was the sole fortress retained by Gondor north of the Ered Nimrais (excluding Anórien), although Gondor almost forgot about it. The small guard intermarried much with the Dunlendings, until the fortress became Dunlending in all but name. Orthanc however remained closed, as the Steward of Gondor alone held the keys.

By 2710 the line of hereditary Captains died out and during the rule of Rohan's King Déor it was evident that Isengard had become openly hostile to the Rohirrim. Using Isengard as their base, the Dunlendings continued to raid Rohan during Déor's son Gram's rule, until during the rule of Gram's son Helm Hammerhand a Dunlending Lord, Freca and his son Wulf nearly managed to destroy the Rohirrim. The Rohirrim eventually destroyed the invaders and blockaded Isengard, eventually taking it.

A more permanent solution was now needed for Isengard, as Gondor did not wish to relinquish its claim to one of the Towers of the Realm, but at the same time lacked the strength or inclination to garrison it. A solution presented itself to the Steward of Gondor, Beren, as Saruman the White suddenly reappeared from the East, and he offered to guard Isengard. Beren gladly gave him the keys to Orthanc, and Saruman settled there. However at first he resided there as Warden of the Tower on behalf of Gondor. After him the valley became known as Nan Curunír, or "Valley of the Wizard". In 2953, taking advantage of Sauron's return and the resulting distraction of the Stewards, Saruman took Isengard for himself and became Lord of Isengard.

During the War of the Ring Isengard was Saruman's base of operations against the Rohirrim, and he defiled the valley, cutting down its trees (and, in Peter Jackson's film version, damming the Isen). Isengard's valley was destroyed by deep pits, used for breeding Uruk-hai and smithing weapons. Isengard became home to countless Orcs, whom Saruman used to try to conquer Rohan. Eventually an army of Ents and Huorns led by Treebeard of Fangorn attacked Isengard, taking the fortress, although they could not take Orthanc.

A shield displaying the White Hand of Isengard

The Hobbits Meriadoc Brandybuck and Peregrin Took as the new "doorwardens" received Théoden King of Rohan, Aragorn and Gandalf at the gates. During the Fourth Age Isengard was restored, and the entire valley granted to the Ents. The Ents tore down the walls of the ring, and named The new forest the Treegarth of Orthanc. Orthanc became again a tower of the Reunited Kingdom of Aragorn King Elessar.

Armour and emblems

The Orcs of Isengard bore upon their shields a White Hand on a black field, and on their helmets an S-rune (Certh 35.svg) to signify "Saruman." A carved and painted White Hand of stone was set on a black pillar outside the gates of Isengard.[2]


Orthanc is the black tower of Isengard. Its name means both "Mount Fang" in Sindarin, and "Cunning Mind" in Old English, the language Tolkien uses to "translate" Rohirric. It is interesting to note that Grendel's glof in Beowulf is described as being made with orþonc (ll. 2087-88).

Orthanc was, according to J. R. R. Tolkien's legendarium, built during the end of the Second Age by the men of Gondor out of four many sided columns of rock joined together by an unknown process and then hardened. No known weapon could harm it. The Ents themselves could not break the tower, although they could split solid rock into fragments with ease. Orthanc rose up to more than 500 feet (150 meters) above the plain of Isengard, and ended in four sharp peaks. Its only entrance was at the top of a high stair, and above that was a small window and balcony.

Orthanc housed one of the palantíri of the South Kingdom, and was guarded by a special warden. In the days of the early Stewards the tower was locked and its keys taken to Minas Tirith. When Isengard fell to the Dunlendings in T.A. 2710 they were unable to enter the tower.

When Beren, Steward of Gondor, gave Isengard to the Wizard Saruman, he also gave him the keys of Orthanc. Saruman made it his base of operations during his search for the One Ring and later his attack on Rohan during the War of the Ring. After Saruman's defeat he was confronted by Théoden King of Rohan, Gandalf and Aragorn, at which time Gríma Wormtongue, Saruman's servant, threw the palantír at the group in an attempt to kill them or possibly Gandalf. Saruman was then locked in Orthanc and guarded by Treebeard, but was set free a short time later. The main reason was that Treebeard had a soft spot: he could not bear to see any living thing caged. Saruman exploited this weakness, most likely using his power with words (See Saruman).

During the Fourth Age Orthanc was searched by King Elessar, and he found there many heirlooms of Isildur, among them the original Elendilmir, the Star of Arnor, which proved that Saruman had found (and probably destroyed) Isildur's remains. Aragorn also found there a casket which obviously had been intended to hold the One Ring.


Isengard and Orthanc appear in film adaptations of The Lord of the Rings. For The Lord of the Rings film trilogy, these were based on the designs of illustrator Alan Lee, who worked as a conceptual artist. According to Richard Taylor in the behind the scenes documentaries from the Extended edition of The Fellowship of The Ring the original model for Orthanc was carved from micro-crystalline wax.

Works cited


  1. ^
  2. ^ Tolkien, J. R. R. (1954), The Two Towers, The Lord of the Rings, Boston: Houghton Mifflin (published 1987), Book III Ch. 1, The Departure of Boromir: "Upon their shields they bore a strange device: a small white hand in the centre of a black field; on the front of their iron helms was set an S-rune, wrought of some white metal"; Book III Ch. 2, The Riders of Rohan: "Great Orcs, who also bore the White Hand of Isengard"; Book III Ch. 8, The Road to Isengard, ISBN 0-395-08254-4 

External links

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