If this short history at first looks to be, in fact, rather long, keep in mind that it summarizes the most important events of The Silmarillion, The Hobbit, and the three-volume Lord of the Rings. With any luck, it’s not only concise, but a reasonably entertaining feat of storytelling in its own right.
(Note that the history of the Fourth Age is not Tolkien’s invention, but mine. I mention that not to claim brilliance, but as a warning: anyone who someday takes a college course in Tolkien literature should remember not to quote me!)
Some characters will know all this history, and others very little. But it’s here for players to make as much or as little use of as they see fit…
The Song of Creation
First, Iluvatar sang the Valar into being, and then he directed them in a great chorus. Their song designed the world of Middle-Earth and all that would eventually walk, crawl, swim, fly, or slither therein.
But there was one of these first beings who was jealous of Iluvatar, and would not harmonize with his fellows. This one was Morgoth, the first and worst Dark Lord of Middle-Earth.
Yet Iluvatar promised the Valar that even the rebel Morgoth’s discordance would be well in the end.
Whereupon Morgoth departed into the darkness, scheming to bend the new world to his own will.
The First Age
All the Valar who were loyal to Iluvatar gathered together and built the world of which they sang. They then waited for Iluvatar’s children to arrive.
While they waited, Yavanna planted the Two Trees of Valinor. One put forth a golden light, and the other put forth a silver light. The Two Trees were the wonder of the Valar’s realm.
Aule, the master craftsman of the Valar, was so overwhelmed with yearning for the coming of the Children promised by Iluvatar that in secret he built children, himself. He made them strong, long-lived, and tough of both body and mind, that they should withstand the malice and corruption of Morgoth. These were the Seven Fathers of the Dwarves, and Iluvatar gave them life, but Iluvatar bade Aule to send his children to sleep in the mountains until the Firstborn were come.
Yavanna, spouse of Aule, was dismayed when she learned of the children her husband had crafted. For by making them without her help, her husband had made beings who would have little love for things that grow from the soil. Therefore she went to Manwe and asked that some of her beloved trees be given the power to move and to think, and to protect other things that grow from the ground. And Manwe took Yavanna’s request to Iluvatar, and it was granted that there should also be Ents in Middle-Earth, after the coming of Elves and Men was accomplished.
In the far North, Morgoth built a fortress. There he called to him lesser beings born of Iluvatar’s song in the beginning of time, spirits of fire but cloaked in darkness, which were later called Balrogs. And he bred many other foul things to trouble the world, and his dominion slowly spread south. He also sent his lieutenant Sauron to build another fortress not far from the northwestern shores of the sea.
The Valar were troubled by Morgoth’s works, and feared lest the Firstborn of Iluvatar should be slaves as soon as they awoke. And some of the Valar called for war against Morgoth, but their doomspeaker Mandos told them, “It is ordained that the Firstborn awake in darkness and behold first the stars, for which reason they shall ever revere Varda and call upon her in their need.”
So Varda made more and brighter stars. As a challenge to Morgoth she hung seven great stars in the north, which are called the Sickle, the symbol of Morgoth’s inevitable defeat.
Even as Varda finished these labors, at last the Elves awoke in the dark of Middle-Earth. As Mandos foretold, their first sight was of the stars, and these they loved, and their greatest reverence was for the maker of stars. Then the Elves began to walk the world in wonder, giving names to all they found. Themselves they named the Quendi, meaning “those who speak with voices,” for as yet they met nothing else in the world that spoke or sang.
Now the Valar wished to protect these Firstborn of Iluvatar from the evils of Morgoth, so they waged war against him. Much of the northwest of the world that then was, lay in forever ruin when they were done. And Morgoth never forgot that the Valar warred with him for the sake of the Elves. The Valar bound Morgoth with a great chain forged by Aule, but many of his fell creatures escaped them, and Sauron too they did not find.
With so much evil still at loose, the Valar implored the Elves to come and dwell with them in their own blessed realm. Some accepted, but others feared them and fled from them, and still others simply loved the lands where they awakened too much to be parted from them.
But those Elves who went to dwell in Valinor, the Undying Lands, were filled with awe by sight of the Two Trees. The greatest craftsman of the Elves fashioned jewels, called Silmarils, which contained some of the essence of the Two Trees. Even the Valar were amazed by the Silmarils, and Morgoth craved them for his own.
In time Morgoth begged pardon for his foul deeds and was forgiven and set free. He at once set to work to poison the Elves against the Valar, whispering to them of the Secondborn to come, Men. The Elves were meant to rule this weaker, short-lived race, Morgoth told them, but the Valar had removed the Elves to deprive them of their rightful power and place in the world. So some of the Elves began to doubt the good will of the Valar, and even of their fellow Elves. They began the forging of swords and armor, and Morgoth fled Valinor before the Valar could discover him.
Now Morgoth found Ungoliant, another of the beings corrupted long ago to his service, dwelling in the form of a great dark spider. Morgoth told Ungoliant of the Silmarils and asked her help to steal them, and together they crept into Valinor concealed by Ungoliant’s webs of darkness. There Morgoth smote the Two Trees with a spear, so that their light was destroyed. And taking the Silmarils, Morgoth and Ungoliant fled from Valinor.
Feanor, crafter of the Silmarils, swore vengeance. Calling all the Elves together, he proclaimed that they now saw the Valar could not protect them, nor meant to, but only held them captive so that Men could hold dominion of the East. He called on the Elves to follow him back East, to build there mighty realms. And he swore on the Valar and Iluvatar to pursue unto death whosoever should dare to hold one of the Silmarils. Many were sore troubled by Feanor’s oath, but many others joined him in it.
They marched in search of ships for their journey over sea back to the East from whence they came. But among those who feared and hated Feanor’s oath were the great ship-builders of the Elves, and none of their ships would they allow Feanor and his followers to take. So Feanor slew those who stood against him, a dreadful deed: Elf shedding blood of Elf, in the sacred realm of the Valar. For this reason the Valar held Feanor and his followers accursed, and Mandos himself appeared to them and spoke the doom of the Valar upon the kinslayers: “Tears unnumbered shall ye shed, and the Valar will fence Valinor against you… Ye have spilled the blood of your kindred unrighteously… For blood ye shall render blood… And those that endure in Middle-Earth … shall grow weary of the world as with a great burden, and shall wane, and become as shadows of regret before the younger race that cometh after. The Valar have spoken.”
Even as Mandos foretold, so it came to be: tears unnumbered the kinslaying Elves shed, and blood they rendered for blood. Never did they recover the Silmarils, but at last one among Men did so, for love of a woman of the Elves. Beren was his name, and Luthien hers, and though they died in taking a Silmaril from Morgoth the Valar were so moved by their love that they allowed the two to return living to Middle-Earth for a time. It was ordained that their line should never fail, and of them are the later kings and queens of Numenor and Gondor descended.
And the Dwarves awoke, and the Ents, and Men. Long did Elves and the friends some of them made among Men strive against Morgoth, but in the end it was not they who overthrew him. Instead, Earendil Half-Elven and his wife Elwing, granddaughter of Beren and Luthien, sailed west and pleaded with the Valar to have pity on their kindred of both Elves and Men, and imprison Morgoth for all Time. The Valar were moved to aid the Children of Iluvatar against Morgoth one last time, and they waged war against him, and capturing him they banished him into the Void. The Door of Night to the Timeless Void is ever guarded, that Morgoth may never return to trouble the Children of Iluvatar.
But Sauron, lieutenant of Morgoth, begged mercy as one led astray by his now-overthrown lord. And the gentle Valar heeded him, not seeing that his heart was rotten, and that he meant himself to become the new Dark Lord of Middle-Earth.
The Second Age
Earendil and Elwing, having seen Valinor the Undying Lands, could never return to Middle-Earth. Yet behind them in Middle-Earth they left two sons, Elros and Elrond. To these Half-Elven the Valar offered a choice, never to be repeated, impossible to revoke: either to be counted as one of the Elves, or to be numbered among Men. For his part, Elrond wished at last to be reunited with his parents, and so he chose to be as one who is a full-blooded elf, never aging and someday to go into the West and dwell in Valinor until Iluvatar remakes the world. But Elros chose the doom of a mortal man, to grow old and die, and go to the unknown reward after life that Iluvatar reserves for those of the mortal races.
Those Men who befriended and supported the Elves, the Valar now wished to keep close to them even as they earlier wished to keep the Elves near them. But mortal Men, doomed to die, could not dwell in the Undying Lands of Valinor. So the Valar built for them a fair island, within sight of Valinor, where the Men who were friends of Elves could dwell in peace and such splendor as they chose. Numenor the Men called this island, and there the Elves of Valinor would sail to visit them, and many of the Men of Numenor sailed East at times to visit their kin who still dwelt in Middle-Earth and teach them fair crafts to better their lives. Elros Half-Elven was the first King of Numenor, and from him all the later kings and queens of Numenor and Gondor are descended.
Long were the Men of Numenor content, obeying the one ban of the Valar: never to sail westward, toward the Undying Lands. More than two thousand years passed, and at last Sauron thought the time ripe to turn the Men of Numenor against the Valar. In those days Sauron still could take a shape that was fair in the eyes of Men, and this he did, and he went to Numenor and long gave them wise counsel so that they would learn to trust him. When he had their trust, Sauron whispered against the Valar, asking why should their friends the Elves — even those who had rebelled against the Valar — enjoy life everlasting while Men must die? This question the King asked of the Elves who visited him, and the troubled Elves reported this news to the Valar. And the Valar sent messengers to the Men of Numenor, warning them that the mind of Iluvatar is not fully understood even by them, but if they feared the fate Iluvatar decreed for Men then the Shadow must be overtaking them. But Sauron well knew that the seed of doubt he planted would grow, and he built his fortress in Mordor to make ready for war.
Now the hearts of some of the Men of Numenor turned foul, and they sailed East not to teach their kin fair crafts but to enslave them. Cursed in Middle-Earth became the names of the Numenorians. Some of these Black Numenorians swore allegiance to Sauron, and they conquered great realms in the East and the South, where they built kingdoms of servants of the Shadow.
Sauron, for his part, now again took a fair form, and went among the Elves who dwelt near the Dwarves of Moria. Although the Elves were part of Iluvatar’s plan for the world from the beginning, whereas the Dwarves were adopted into the plan because of Iluvatar’s love of the Vala craftsman Aule, some of the Elves and some of the Dwarves were firm friends throughout the First Age and much of the Second. Friendliest of all were the Dwarves of Moria and the Elves who settled near them, and they freely traded knowledge and often worked together on various projects. But now Sauron urged the Elves to a new project, apart from the Dwarves: the forging of Rings of Power. Nine rings Sauron gifted to great kings of Men, three of them Black Numenorians, and as they died they became ringwraiths enslaved to Sauron’s will and service. Seven rings Sauron gave to Dwarves, one for each lineage of the Seven Fathers of the Dwarves fashioned by Aule. But Aule had made the Dwarves well; to Sauron’s bitter surprise the Dwarves did not turn into ringwraiths, but only became greedy for gold and gems and various other treasures. Three rings the Elves made in secret, and these were not joined to Sauron’s ring-mastery, but Sauron too worked in secret: in the fires of Mount Doom in the land of Mordor, Sauron forged One Ring to rule them all.
Yet all did not go according to Sauron’s plans. For not all the Men of Numenor were corrupted and turned traitors against the Valar. Indeed, some few loyal Numenorians foresaw the bitter end to which their kinsmen must come, and they refused to share that fate. While the King of Numenor amassed a fleet to sail in arms against the Valar, one loyal descendant of Elros and his sons and their trusted allies prepared ships of their own to sail back to Middle-Earth. As these few loyal Men of Numenor foresaw, the Valar rose in wrath against the Men who tried to wage war against them; they sunk Numenor beneath the waves, and cut Valinor off forever from Middle-Earth, except to ships sailed by Elves.
And so Elendil the Numenorian sailed back to Middle-Earth, and he and his sons and their allies built there a mighty kingdom. Thus it was that in the hour Sauron and his servants of the Shadow marched in war against the Elves and Dwarves of Middle-Earth who still opposed him, there were Men loyal to the Elves and the Valar who joined the fight against him. Together Elendil and the elven king Gil-galad struck Sauron down, though they were both slain in doing so. But this chance to destroy Sauron was wasted, for Isildur son of Elendil, whose father and brother had both died in the war, cut the One Ring from Sauron’s hand and declared, “This I will have as weregild for my father and brother.” Elrond Half-Elven pleaded with Isildur to cast the One Ring back into the fires of Mount Doom, the one place where it could be destroyed, and thus ensure that Sauron never could regain his strength and return to menace Middle-Earth. But Isildur would not listen, and he carried the One Ring back with him to Gondor.
So ended the Second Age, but one last event of that time should be recorded. At about the same time that Sauron tricked the Elves into forging Rings of Power, and then wielded his One Ring against Elves, Dwarves, and Men, the long friendship of the Dwarves of Moria and the Elves who had settled nearby came to an end. Not even the Wise ever learned for certain what caused the feud between the Elves and the Dwarves, for each race believes a different story of what happened. However, it is probable that the conflict between these former friends was the fruit of another of Sauron’s foul schemes.
The Third Age
Only two years after Isildur took the One Ring for his own, he was slain by an ambush of orcs in the Gladden Fields. The One Ring was lost, and long forgotten. But the Valar, realizing that the survival of the One Ring meant Sauron would someday return, sent five of the Maiar to Middle-Earth to thwart him as best they could. These were the Five Wizards, and they arrived in Middle-Earth approximately a thousand years after Isildur’s death.
Two of the Five Wizards went into the East. They never returned, and no rumor of them ever came back to the West. Radagast grew very fond of the birds and beasts, and always had little to do with Elves, Men, Dwarves, or even his fellow Wizards. He did not exactly forget his purpose in coming to Middle-Earth, but he largely lost interest in it. Saruman, originally the most learned and powerful of the Wizards, took upon himself the mission of learning all he could of Sauron’s past deeds, particularly the making of the Rings of Power. Perhaps his intentions were good, at first. But midway through the Third Age, as Sauron regained his strength and began to again challenge the Free Peoples, Saruman succumbed to fear and jealousy of the Dark Lord. Saruman became both servant and rival of Sauron, aiding him while aspiring eventually to usurp his place.
Gandalf, alone of the Five Wizards, stayed loyal to his mission of opposing Sauron and actually did great deeds in fulfillment of that mission. But his contributions did not become important until the latter part of the Third Age. However, Gandalf’s interest in hobbits led him to learn far more about them than hobbits preserved memory of, themselves; where information about hobbits appears in this history of the Third Age, it is information discovered by Gandalf.
For a long time the kingdom established by Elendil in Middle-Earth thrived. In the north it was foolishly divided into three sub-kingdoms, due to a disagreement about succession that eventually arose. The Witch-King of Angmar, who was actually the chief ringwraith in disguise, used the division of the North Kingdom to his advantage. Unwilling to cooperate against him, the three kingdoms of the North fell one by one to Angmar’s armies. But though the North kingdoms fell, the kings themselves did not; their line survived in secret.
About five hundreds years after the last of the North kingdoms fell to the Witch-King of Angmar, during which time the Witch-King returned to Mordor and began to multiply the orcs and other fell servants of the Shadow, a most peculiar thing happened in the Gladden Fields. There along the banks of the Anduin dwelt the Little People who would later be known as hobbits. One day two of them went fishing, and one was dragged underwater by a great fish. He let the fish go when he caught glimpse of something shiny lying on the river floor, and grabbing the shiny thing he swam back to the bank. There he opened his hand to find a beautiful gold ring, and his companion craved it for his own. When the finder would not give it freely, his companion choked him to death and took it from his dead hand. That murderer, named Smeagol, became hated and feared by his people, who nicknamed him Gollum and drove him out of their community. He took refuge deep inside the Misty Mountains, taking the One Ring with him.
During that time, also, a Balrog appeared in Moria. The Dwarves who had made their homes there since the First Age, Durin’s Folk who always fought against the Shadow, fled for their lives. Orcs began moving into Moria and occupied the whole of the Misty Mountains, having some time ago already taken Gundabad from the Dwarves.
In Gondor, the South Kingdom, the kings died out from wars and plagues brought upon them by Mordor. The Stewards of Gondor took up rule of the kingdom, awaiting the day when a rightful heir of Isildur would come to relieve them of that duty. But so long did that duty last that they ceased to believe an heir would ever appear, and they came to regard themselves as the rightful rulers of Gondor.
An alliance for mutual aid against orcs and other servants of the Shadow was made between Rohan and Gondor. To seal the pact, Gondor gave land to the Rohirrim to dwell in, land that became the kingdom of Rohan.
The hobbits left the banks of the Anduin, crossing the Misty Mountains and settling in the lands eventually known as Bree and the Shire. According to the history of the hobbits themselves, the Shire was granted them as a reward for their aid of the King, sending archers to one of the battles against servants of the Shadow. No record of hobbit archers appears in the history of Gondor or any of the three North kingdoms, but neither was the claim ever disputed by any loremaster.
When the Balrog appeared in Moria, Durin’s Folk had fled to their kindred in the Iron Hills, the Grey Mountains, and Erebor (The Lonely Mountain). But their ill luck was not at an end. Now a dragon, Smaug, heard of the wealth of the dwarves of Erebor. Dragons love treasures above all things, so Smaug attacked the dwarves of Erebor, and took the Lonely Mountain for his lair.
Gandalf met the rightful king of Erebor as he investigated a Necromancer whom he feared was Sauron, his strength nearly fully recovered, establishing a stronghold in the heart of the West. He was entrusted with a map and a key, and asked to find Thorin and give these heirlooms to him, that Durin’s Folk might someday take back the Lonely Mountain from Smaug. Many years passed before Gandalf found Thorin, but when he found him he helped him with his quest by also recruiting for him a burglar: a hobbit, Bilbo Baggins of the Shire. While aiding the dwarves in their quest, Bilbo got lost deep inside the Misty Mountains. There he found a shiny golden ring, and encountered a strange and loathsome creature called Gollum whose most precious possession the ring had been. Bilbo discovered that wearing the ring turned him invisible, which was lucky for him, because only by wearing the ring and turning invisible was he able to escape Gollum and the orcs with his life.
Several decades later, when Bilbo decided to leave the Shire and never return, Gandalf persuaded him to leave the ring with his adopted heir, Frodo Baggins. Bilbo’s attachment to the ring worried Gandalf, and through long investigation Gandalf learned that it must be the One Ring that was lost when Isildur was slain. Unfortunately, Gollum had left the Misty Mountains to search for the nasty, tricksy thief who had stolen his precious ring. He was captured by servants of the Shadow, questioned under torture in Mordor, and the nine ringwraiths were sent to fetch the One Ring back to Sauron. Frodo fled with the ring to Elrond Half-Elven’s home in Rivendell, where it was decided that an attempt must be made to do what Isildur foolishly refused to do long ago: cast the One Ring into the fires of Mount Doom, where it was forged, the only place where it could be destroyed. But there was so much bickering about who could be trusted to take the ring to Mordor and destroy it in the fires of Mount Doom, that Frodo felt he must volunteer. So he set out with eight companions: Legolas represented the Elves, Gimli the Dwarves, Boromir the Men of Gondor, Aragorn the heir of Isildur, Samwise Gamgee as Frodo’s faithful friend and servant, Merry Brandybuck and Pippin Took as Frodo’s friends and kin, and Gandalf the Wizard. Along the way the company was parted, but with Gollum as a reluctant guide through Mordor at last Frodo and Sam succeeded in destroying the One Ring.
Aragorn was crowned King Elessar of Gondor. He soon wedded his longtime love Arwen, the daughter of Elrond Half-Elven.
The Fourth Age
When Sauron and the One Ring were destroyed, there was much rejoicing among the Free Peoples of Middle-Earth. King Elessar, however, wisely refused to rest. Moreover, he has been wise in his courses of action: though his heart yearns to rebuild the great kingdom of his long ago forefather Elendil, he knows that to spread his resources and people too thin is to invite disaster.
Therefore, in the first 20 years after the War of the Ring, King Elessar’s priorities have been to rebuild the eastern citadels of Gondor and to hunt out and destroy such servants of the Shadow as still lurked in Mordor. The former priority was easily accomplished, with the aid of Elves and Dwarves. But the latter priority has proved slow and elusive, for the servants of the Shadow are cunning. Even now, in the year 53 of the Fourth Age, patrols sent to Mordor still encounter orcs and trolls at times in the mountains that wall Mordor to the north, west, and south. But the patrols over time have driven the servants of the Shadow into the far eastern regions of Mordor, and hope grows that they will be at last entirely slain. This is of vital importance, for it is no accident Sauron chose Mordor for his stronghold: it is strategically ideal for holding back assaults from the Free Peoples of the West, while leaving the door open for servants of the Shadow from the Easterlands and the Southerlands to march into Mordor and reinforce it. If ever it is to be safe for Elendil’s heirs to rebuild his ancient kingdom, Mordor must be thoroughly laid low beyond restoration.
Alas, that has not yet been achieved, because throughout the years Shadow-serving Men and fell creatures of the Easterlands and the Southerlands have waged war against Gondor. King Elessar has never enjoyed any long peace, but must constantly defend his realm against Rhun, Umbar, Harad, and other lands long ago fallen into Shadow.
If King Elessar has made any mistake during his reign, however, it was in trying too soon to repay the debt he believes he owes to his dwarvish friends. Perhaps, having long been a king denied his throne himself, he is too easily moved to aid others in similar situations. Begged by Durin’s Folk to help them reclaim Moria for their own, King Elessar formed the First Alliance of Men and Dwarves. He did this in spite of warning from his father-in-law, Elrond Half-Elven, that he foresaw great loss of life, for even Elrond could not foretell the outcome — and that meant there was a chance of success. So King Elessar marched to Moria with his firstborn, his son Aragorn II, at his side. There Aragorn II fell, pierced by orc-arrows, for many servants of the Shadow that formerly dwelt in Mordor have taken refuge in Moria. Indeed, too many are the servants of the Shadow in Moria for all the strength of Men and Dwarves to defeat, at present.
King Elessar and Queen Arwen have three children still living. Their secondborn was a daughter, Celebrian, named in honor of Arwen’s deceased mother. Celebrian is a skillful warrior and easily leads both men and beasts. She lives the life of a Ranger, as her father did before the War of the Ring, and with the warriors at her command she keeps the roads between the Grey Havens and Gondor as safe for travel as may be. Bandits still sometimes waylay travelers, but every year those bandits bold enough to brave Princess Celebrian’s wrath grow fewer.
Thirdborn of Elessar and Arwen is another son, Earendil, named for an ancestor of them both. Prince Earendil is much more of a scholar than a soldier, and looks as if he were a full-blooded elf. But he too aids his father the king, captaining the patrols of Mordor and the scouting parties that seek advance warning of attacks from East and South. He may not be as swift and sure with a blade as his older sister, but he is a master strategist, and King Elessar consults with him often.
Fourthborn and last of the children of Elessar and Arwen is a daughter, Luthien. She too is named for a distant ancestor of both her parents. And her parents are fiercely protective of her, for in her childhood it became apparent that Luthien inherited none of the long life of her Dunedain father, still less the ever-young heritage of her Elvish mother. It is certain that Princess Luthien will live to be no older than 80, at the rate she is aging. Yet it may be that she is the most formidable of Elessar’s and Arwen’s children, for what she did inherit from them is the gift for magic of the Elves, whose blood flows in both her parents’ veins. Even as a toddler Luthien could improvise minor magics, and she began formal study of magic as soon as she could read. She is barely an adult now, and already she has mastered several spells for which her namesake ancestress and the renowned wizard Gandalf were famous. It may be that she alone of mortals will match the Five Wizards in power, before she breathes her last.
King Elessar’s sympathy for crownless kings also moved him to aid the ruling family of Dorwinion in reclaiming their throne. That effort, fortunately, was successful, and as if to compensate Gondor for the loss of Aragorn II, there were no Gondorian fatalities in the War of Dorwinion. The Elves of Mirkwood and the Men of Dale joined forces with Gondor in that war, and only two Dalesmen were slain. Dorwinion long celebrated its liberation from the oppressive conquerors from Rhun, and the ruling family of Dorwinion pledged eternal friendship with Gondor, Dale, and the Elves of Mirkwood. They had long been friendly to the Free Peoples, but this formal declaration of good will was new and received joyfully by the Free Peoples of the West.