Accounting for the Numbers of the Arda

© 2005 Michael Kennedy

"Tall ships and tall kings
Three times three,
What brought they from the foundered land
Over the flowing sea?
Seven stars and seven stones
And one white tree."

(Gandalf to Pippin en route to Minas Tirith)


Arda, Tolkien's immense and immeasurable created world, revolves around his invented languages:

"The stories were made rather to provide a world
for the languages than the reverse."
(J.R.R. Tolkien, Letter 165. [8])

However, if the languages and words were responsible for the creation of the world, then it's numbers that make it go round and round. In fact, without numbers, Middle-earth as we know it would not exist. Tolkien was meticulously mathematical. From the duration of the Ages to the precise time of day, from moon phases to birthday invitations, Tolkien was a numbers man through and through. Literally, from the very genesis of Arda's creation, he used numbers to conjure a sense of power, to add emphasis to an otherwise insignificant entity:

"There was Eru, the One, who in Arda is called Ilúvatar"
(Ainulindalë - The Silmarillion)

One could also contend that Tolkien used numbers, much like his language, to anchor Middle-earth in the sea of authenticity, providing us with a calculus that we can both assimilate and comprehend. What follows is a by the numbers, comprehensive (although not completely exhaustive) compendium of the use of numbers throughout his works. In general the more prominent entries are discussed with the addition of a few of the more obscure, yet highly interesting occurrences.


"One Ring to rule them all, One Ring to find them,
One Ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them."


"I am not at all happy about the title `The Two Towers'. It must if there is any real reference in it to Vol II refer to Orthanc and the Tower of Cirith Ungol. But since there is so much made of the basic opposition of the Dark Tower and Minas Tirith, that seems very misleading."  (Letter No. 143. [8])











Genesis 2:3 "God blessed the seventh day and made it holy,
because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done."

Without question, the number seven (followed by the number '"three"') is the most frequent number that Tolkien uses. It''s also a number that has historical and religious significance. In almost every system of antiquity there are frequent references to the number seven. The Pythagoreans called it the perfect number, three and four, the triangle and the square, being the perfect figures. The Arabians had seven Holy Temples. In Persian mysteries there were seven spacious caverns through which the aspirants had to pass. The Goths had seven deities, as did the Romans, from whose names are derived our days of the week. There were also seven ancient planets. In Scriptural history there is a frequent recurrence of this number (528 occurrences in fact) where it abstractedly symbolises completion, fullness, or perfection. Richard Trench, the famous Arch-Bishop of 19th Century Ireland, who was renowned for not only his biblical studies but also his philology, said of the number seven:

"There is no doubt that it claims, throughout Scripture, to be considered as the covenant number, the sign and signature of God's covenant relation to mankind, and above all to that portion of mankind with which this relation is not potential merely, but actual-namely, the Church."  (Commentary on the Epistles to the Seven Churches in Asia. Revelation i-iii. (London, 1861))

It is no wonder then that this sacred Christian number is reflected throughout Tolkien's works.

* Gondolin, especially 'The Fall of Gondolin' that can be found in The Book of Lost Tales 2, [2] deserves it''s own special seven section:





"Among [the Valar] Nine were of chief power and reverence; but one[Melkor] is removed from their number, and Eight remain, the Aratar, the High Ones of Arda..."[3]


















REFERENCES: Works by J.R.R. Tolkien

(1) The Book of Lost Tales. Part I. Edited by Christopher Tolkien. London: George Allen & Unwin, 1983.

(2) The Book of Lost Tales. Part II. Edited by Christopher Tolkien. London: George Allen & Unwin, 1984.

(3) The Silmarillion. First Edition London: George Allen & Unwin 1977; cited here from second edition, 1983.
(4) The Hobbit. First edition London: George Allen & Unwin 1937; cited here from fourth edition, 1981.

(The Lord of The Rings) in three volumes:

(5) I,  The Fellowship of the Ring. First edition London: George Allen & Unwin 1954; cited here from fourth edition, 1981.
(6) II,  The Two Towers. First edition London: George Allen & Unwin 1954; cited here from fourth edition, 1981.
(7) III,  The Return of the King. First edition London: George Allen & Unwin 1955; cited here from fourth edition, 1981.
(8) Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien. Edited by Humphrey Carpenter with the assistance of Christopher Tolkien, London: George Allen & Unwin 1981; cited here from second edition, 1995.
(9) Roverandom. First Edition London: HarperCollins Publishers, 1998.
(10) Morgoth's Ring: The Later Silmarillion, Part One: The Legends of Aman. Edited by Christopher Tolkien, London, Harper Collins, 1993.
(11) The Adventures of Tom Bombadil. With illustrations by Pauline Baynes. London: George Allen & Unwin, 1962.


Back to Tilkal, Issue 2, eJournal of Tol Harndor