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The northern reaches of the Misty Mountains, in the region once known as Angmar
Probably 'karn doom'


About this entry:

  • Updated 20 October 2014
  • Updates planned: 1

Carn Dûm

Mountain Fortress of Angmar

Map of Carn Dûm

Peak in the far north of the Misty Mountains, the site of the ancient capital of the Witch-king of Angmar.



In theory, the name Carn Dûm is relatively simple to interpret, and we even have a potential translation from Tolkien himself. The name originated in Elvish in the drafts of The Lord of the Rings, first appearing in various experimental forms such as Carndoom or Carondûm, and the meaning given for those is 'red vale' or 'red valley'. The 'valley' connection arises because the name started out applying to a different location altogether: it was an early name for Nanduhirion, the Dimrill Dale. Only later was the name transferred northward to the stronghold of Angmar.

The old interpretation of 'red vale' is complicated by the fact that the Witch-king's fortress of Carn Dûm appears to have been a mountain, not a valley. Actually, that's never specifically stated in the text, but it does seem to be unmistakable based on the canonical large-scale map of Middle-earth. Further, in later developments of the text Tolkien briefly experimented with the spelling Mount Dûm for Mount Doom, so at this stage the word dûm seems to have left its connections with valleys far behind.

This leaves us without an obvious interpretation of Carn Dûm, except to say that Carn probably still retains the meaning of 'red'. Nonetheless, it is possible to speculate to some extent on the potential origins of the name.

Dûm isn't attested in later Elvish, but it is one of the very few words of Dwarvish vocabulary that we know for certain. In Khazad-dûm, it means 'halls, mansions', and this fits neatly for a mountain fortress or citadel. What's more, nearby Mount Gundabad has Dwarvish associations, so the possibility arises that Carn Dûm might have once been a city of the Dwarves, partially named in their language.

The name might conceivably, therefore, represent a compound of Elvish and Dwarvish, with a meaning something like 'red mansions'. However, it should be noted that these two languages are almost never seen in combination. Probably the only definite case is Finrod Felagund, for which the historical origins are well understood. We have no such explanation for Carn Dûm, though a compound origin remains at least a possibility.

A final possibility is that the old Elvish associations of Carn Dûm were abandoned, and in its final form it was intended to come from a Mannish language. Tolkien used real languages to represent the Mannish languages in his books, and especially Old English and Old Norse. Carn Dûm doesn't seem to belong to either of these, but there is another candidate: carn dúm are words from Gaelic that can be translated 'mountain fortress'. Did Tolkien intend this, or is it a spectacular coincidence? To accept it as intentional, we'd need to assume an entire new 'Angmarian' language, based on Gaelic, that was wiped out with Angmar by the Gondorians and survived only in this one name. This seems unlikely in the extreme, but where Tolkien is concerned, anything is possible...


About this entry:

  • Updated 20 October 2014
  • Updates planned: 1

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