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Mithril is a metal found in Middle-earth as described in the fantasy writings of J.R.R. Tolkien. It resembles silver but is stronger than steel, and much lighter in weight than either. The author first wrote of it in The Lord of the Rings, and it is retrospectively mentioned in the third, revised edition of The Hobbit in 1966. In the first 1937 edition, the mail shirt given to Bilbo is described as being made of "silvered steel".
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.
The most notable item made of mithril in the works of Tolkien 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. He donated it to the Mathom-House; a museum. However during his departure he later reclaimed it for his journey to Rivendell. Later, he gave the shirt to Frodo Baggins when the younger hobbit embarked on his quest in The Lord of The Rings. Frodo wore the mail underneath his tunic and other shirt unbeknownst to the rest of the fellowship. The mail saved Frodo's life when he was hit by a spear thrust from an Orc Chieftain 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. In the Lord of the Ring's film, Frodo is speared once but survives much to the disbelief of the Fellowship. Upon opening his tunic he reveals the mithril mail much to the amazement of Gimli and Aragorn.
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. In the film "Return of the King" the shirt is presented by the Mouth of Sauron as false evidence that Frodo was killed.
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 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.
Outside of Tolkien's writings
The name "mithril" or similarly spelled variations (mith, mithral, mythril, and others) is present in other fictional contexts like role-playing games such as Shining Force II, Bravely Default, Terraria, The Sims Medieval, RuneScape, Hexen II, Elsword, Guild Wars 2, Diablo II, World of Warcraft, Landmark (video game), Dark Age of Camelot, Chrono Cross, Final Fantasy, Zenonia 3, Xenoblade Chronicles, NetHack, Golden Sun (series), Dungeons and Dragons, and The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion—despite that Mithril is a registered trademark owned by The Saul Zaentz Company. The Saul Zaentz Company owns all trademark and certain other rights derived from the names of places, characters and things described in J.R.R. Tolkien's novels The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, as well as in the feature films based on those books. The Saul Zaentz Company has used the mark Mithril for many years in connection with a variety of things, including for example, collectible figurines, online role-playing video games and entertainment services. Mithril metal is also frequently mentioned in many of the original 1st edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons game books and adventure modules written by Gary Gygax and published by TSR.
Mithril also features, quite naturally, in officially licensed games, such as the popular The Lord of the Rings Online. One instance that features mithril heavily is Volume 2 of the Epic Story. Records are uncovered of an axe called Zigilburk forged solely from the legendary metal by a master Dwarven smith. The player is tasked with finding the weapon, uncovering the lost forge dedicated to its making in the process.
- Tolkien, J. R. R. (1937), Douglas A. Anderson, ed., The Annotated Hobbit, Boston: Houghton Mifflin (published 2002), ISBN 0-618-13470-0
- 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
- "Middle-earth Enterprise".
- "Frequently Asked Questions". MIThril project. Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Retrieved 2012-11-19.
- mithril on Lord of the Rings wikia