Mordor's Pervasive Gloom

Josue Cofresi '07, English 65, Fantasy, Brown University, 2003

Throughout The Lord of the Rings author J.R.R. Tolkien implements the motif of gloom, concrete and abstract, for the purpose of instilling emotions of fear, foreboding or sadness within the central characters and reader. Faintly present when Frodo first receives information about the One Ring, this looming darkness becomes denser as the main heroes make their way to Mordor; it becomes more manifest as they encounter a growing number of Lord Sauron's forces of orcs and men. Upon finally reaching Mordor, a material gloom lingers about it.

"What is the matter?" [Merry] asked.

"The king calls for you."

"But the sun has not risen, yet," said Merry.

"No, and will not rise, today Master Holbytla. Nor ever again, one would think under this cloud. But time does not stand still, though the Sun be lost. Make haste!"

The world was darkling. The very air seemed brown, and all things about were black and grey and shadow less; there was a great stillness. No shape of cloud could be seen unless it were far away westward, where the furthest groping fingers of the great gloom still crawled onwards and a little light leaked through them. Overhead there hung a heavy roof, somber and featureless, and light seemed rather to be failing than growing.

Merry saw many folk standing, looking up and muttering; all their faces were grey and sad, and some were afraid. With a sinking he made his way to the king. . . .

"It comes from Mordor, lord," [Higron] said. "It began last night at sunset. From the hills in the Eastfold of your realm I saw it rise and creep across the sky, and all night as I rode it came behind eating up the stars. Now the great cloud hangs over all the land between here and the Mountains of Shadow; and it is deepening. War has already begun." [783]


1. Why does Tolkien choose to present the gloom -- like other apparent magic-- so subtly in The Lord of the Rings?

2. What's the effect of describing the gloom as groping fingers?

3. What might the gloom represent? What does the description of it entail?

4. Why does Tolkien choose to present the gloom here and not before another fierce battle, such as the one that takes place in Helm's Deep?


Tolkien, J.R.R. The Lord of the Rings. Houghton Mifflin, Boston: 1966.

Victorian Web Overview J. R. R. Tolkien Victorian courses

Last modified 2 March 2004