Mithril is a fictional metal, originally used in J. R. R. Tolkien's Middle-earth fantasy writings. It is described as silvery and stronger than steel but much lighter in weight. The malleability, lack of tarnishing and use of the metal in jewellery suggest some similarity to the non-fictional metal platinum, while its strength and lightness suggest titanium. There is however no authorial indication that Tolkien had a real-world metal in mind. The author first wrote of it in The Lord of the Rings, and it was retrospectively mentioned in the third, revised edition of The Hobbit in 1966. In the first 1937 edition, the mail shirt given to Bilbo was described as being made of "silvered steel".
In The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien writes that mithril was found only in Khazad-dûm (Moria) in Middle-earth, where it was mined by the Dwarves. In Unfinished Tales he writes that it was also found in Númenor.
The name mithril comes from two words in Sindarin — mith, meaning "grey" or "mist", and ril meaning "glitter". The metal's Quenya name is mistarillë. Mithril was also called "true-silver" or "Moria-silver"; the Dwarves had their own secret name for it.
The name mithril has since been used in several other contexts in popular culture.
As used in Tolkien's writings
Within the text, the wizard Gandalf explained mithril to others while passing through Khazad-dûm:
- "Mithril! All folk desired it. It could be beaten like copper, and polished like glass; and the Dwarves could make of it a metal, light and yet harder than tempered steel. Its beauty was like to that of common silver, but the beauty of mithril did not tarnish or grow dim."
The Noldor of Eregion made an alloy out of it called ithildin ("star moon"), which was used to decorate gateways, portals and pathways. It was visible only by starlight or moonlight. The West Gate of Moria bore inlaid ithildin designs and runes. It is implied at one point that the "moon-letters" featured in The Hobbit were also composed of ithildin.
In Tolkien's Middle-earth, mithril is extremely rare by the end of the Third Age, as it was now found only in Khazad-dûm. Once the Balrog destroyed the kingdom of the Dwarves at Khazad-dûm, the only source of new mithril ore was cut off. Before Moria was abandoned by the Dwarves, while it was still being actively mined, mithril was worth ten times its weight in gold. After the Dwarves abandoned Moria and production of new mithril stopped entirely, it became priceless.
Of all items made of mithril in the works of Tolkien, a notable example is the "small shirt of mail" retrieved from the hoard of the dragon Smaug, and given to Bilbo Baggins by Thorin Oakenshield. Gandalf says the value of this mithril-coat was "greater than the value of the whole Shire and everything in it."
"Also there is this!" said Bilbo, bringing out a parcel which seemed to be rather heavy for its size. He unwound several folds of old cloth, and held up a small shirt of mail. It was close-woven of many rings, as supple almost as linen, cold as ice, and harder than steel. It shone like moonlit silver, and was studded with white gems.
Bilbo wore the mithril shirt during the Battle of the Five Armies, and took it with him when he left the Shire. Later, he gave the shirt to Frodo Baggins when the younger hobbit embarked on his quest in The Lord of The Rings. The mail saved Frodo's life when he was hit by an Orc spear during the battle in the Chamber of Mazarbul. and again when an Orc-arrow struck him while escaping Moria,. Later, it protected him from another Orc-arrow while crossing the River Anduin.
When Sam Gamgee believed Frodo to be dead outside Shelob's Lair, he left the shirt with Frodo. Frodo was taken by the orcs, who fought over the shirt. Frodo was saved, but one of the orcs escaped with the shirt. The shirt was, along with Frodo's other possessions, shown to Frodo's allies at the Black Gate to falsely imply that he was captured. Gandalf took the shirt and other tokens, but refused any offer of parley.
At the end of the story, Frodo wore the shirt at the celebrations and on the trip home. The shirt saved his life one more time when Saruman, who had taken over the Shire, tried to stab Frodo after Frodo had spared his life.
Other mithril objects in Tolkien's writings
Searching through the closets of Orthanc, King Elessar and his aides found the long lost first Elendilmir, a white star of Elvish crystal affixed to a fillet of mithril. Once owned by Elendil, the first King of Arnor, it was an emblem of royalty in the North Kingdom. After Elendil fell in the War of the Last Alliance, his eldest son Isildur ascended to the throne. On his journey back to the northern capital of Arnor, his retinue was ambushed by orcs. Isildur tried to escape by jumping into a river but was killed by arrows. Saruman may have found his body there, and taken the Elendilmir from it. A replica was made, which was used by Isildur's successors up to the re-establishment of the kingdom (reunited with Gondor) by Elessar. He thus used both, using one or the other on certain occasions.
The Dwarves' beloved metal appears also in Gondor. The Guards of the Citadel of Minas Tirith wear helmets of mithril, "heirlooms from the glory of old days". As a result, the Citadel Guards are the only soldiers in Gondor that still bear the emblems of the lost Kings during the days of the Stewards: regular armour wore out over the centuries and was replaced, but as mithril armour never degrades it never needed to be replaced, and as mithril objects were no longer replaceable, the Stewards would not discontinue use of the rare and valuable armour despite the emblems they bore.
Outside of Tolkien
The name mithril or similarly spelled variations (mithral, mythril, and others) is present in other fictional contexts like role-playing games, video games and books since the Tolkien Estate did not trademark the term.
- ^ a b c d Tolkien, J. R. R. (1937), Douglas A. Anderson, ed., The Annotated Hobbit, Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2002, ISBN 0-618-13470-0
- ^ "Mithril". Encyclopedia of Arda. 23 July 2002. http://www.glyphweb.com/arda/m/mithril.html.
- ^ a b c d e f Tolkien, J. R. R. (1954), The Fellowship of the Ring, The Lord of the Rings, Boston: Houghton Mifflin (published 1987), "A Journey in the Dark", ISBN 0-395-08254-4
- ^ Tolkien, J. R. R. (1954), The Fellowship of the Ring, The Lord of the Rings, Boston: Houghton Mifflin (published 1987), "The Great River", ISBN 0-395-08254-4
- ^ Tolkien, J. R. R. (1955), The Return of the King, The Lord of the Rings, Boston: Houghton Mifflin (published 1987), "The Scouring of the Shire", ISBN 0-395-08256-0
- ^ Tolkien, J. R. R. (1954), The Fellowship of the Ring, The Lord of the Rings, Boston: Houghton Mifflin (published 1987), "Many Meetings", ISBN 0-395-08254-4
- This article incorporates information from
Moria from J. R. R. Tolkien's legendarium Dwarves of Moria Associations Orcs of Moria History of creatures Treasures & objectsMithril • Durin's Axe • Book of Mazarbul Rivers & streamsSirannon River • Kibil-nâla Locations Warfare history Mountains OtherSignificant Dwarves • Dwarven realms of the Second Age • Dwarven realms of the Third Age
• (Moria once bore names such as Khazad-dûm; Hadhodrond and Dwarrowdelf)
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