Moria: A Powerful Setting

J.R. Tolkien is what one may call a very imaginative person, but its not imagination that makes his works so thrilling and intriguing, its intelligence. In The Fellowship of the Ring, the setting shows the influence of evil on the fellowship and just how invisible the force of evil was to the characters that had not yet been out of their comfort lands. When the fellowship reaches the mines of Moria their fear is necessary, but they know not yet what about the land to fear which is shown in the words of Gandalf when he says, “The mines of Moria were vast and intricate beyond the imagination of Gimli.” There is much more to the mines of Moria that the companions do not yet fear because they do not know what lies beneath, but the temptation of the evil forces they know nothing of will influence their journey throughout the mines and the choices they make within them. Along with the ring and the wearer of the ring, the specific and unique descriptions of the places and obstacles within the dark unseen mines of Moria support and give reason for the theme of the corrupting influence of power.

Right after entering the mines, the naïve creatures were forced to make many decisions to get out from under the mountains based on the placement of certain objects and passageways that were placed in their paths. These descriptive parts of Moria are intended to be a distraction for the fellowship set out by the force of evil, to intrigue and divert the much needed high levels of concentration from their travels to the force itself. “There were not only many roads to choose from, there were also many holes and pitfall, and dark wells beside the path in which their passing feet echoed.” Tolkien intentionally describes the companions’ feet as being so close to the holes that they could easily make a wrong step and be gone. The characters needed concentration and knowledge of the lands and Tolkien makes known throughout the novel that the forces of evil were intended to know that the fellowship did not have this knowledge so they use this to their advantage. Gandalf has no memory of the mines which comes to be a hindrance when they make it to “a wide dark arch opening into three passages: all led the same direction, eastwards.” They chose none of these and look to the side of the three passages to enter a “stone door: it was half closed but swung back easily to a gentle thrust.” The companions made this decision easily because it required no choice between the three passages, but the description of the door being “half-closed” versus half-opened portrays to the reader the emphasis on the darkness Tolkien places within the mines. The door they chose led to, “a large round hole like the mouth of a well. Broken and rusty chains lay at the edge and trailed down the black pit. Fragments of stone lay near,” which was in the middle of the floor that only Gandalf spotted. Tolkien strategically describes the placement of the hole and obstacles that lay around it to depict the presence of other creatures before them in a way that will once again capture the minds of the travelers and lead their thought away from their journey.

As the adventure throughout the mines persists, Tolkien’s usage of the setting continues to reveal the forces of evil and the large impact they have on the paths the travelers take and what they encounter. Tolkien places an importance on the airflow throughout the mines like in the quote where the travelers entered “into a black and empty space. There was a great draught of warm air behind them, and before them the darkness was cold on their faces.” Here, Tolkien is showing that the company is leaving the feeling of comfort behind and entering into the darkness.  Again in the big hall that the travelers spend the night in has “a steady inflow of chill air through the eastern archway.” With this quote Tolkien confirms the reader’s suspicions that the air is a piece of the force that is guiding them in a way that may or may not be the right path. With this idea the reader is more interested and willing to read on.

The last aspect of the setting in Moria that the author uses to his benefit is just how important the light is to the company when they finally see a piece of good, it was them getting away from the evil and seeing how “dazzlingly bright” a hint of light could be after being under the forces of evil for so long. The door of the corridor that leads to the light is described as “half-open.” The way Tolkien uses the complete opposite phrase to describe the way the door lies shows the difference in the dark, evil, confining parts of the mines and the light, good parts of the mines, showing a way to escape.

Throughout the work the author uses the setting to support the theme that occurs throughout the novel, power as a corrupting influence. This theme is shown most importantly through the ring and all that come in its paths, so to show just how corrupting power can be, the way the setting is described in Moria is also used as an indicator for the strength of power.


Quotes taken from: Tolkien, J.R.R. The Lord of the Rings. Boston: Houghton-Mifflin. 2004.