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Constructed in the early days of Gondor, quite possibly before the end of the Second Age, though unlikely to have been called 'Orthanc' before III 27591
Below the source of the river Isen, at the southern end of the Misty Mountains
Built by the early Gondorians
Built by Men, but latterly occupied by a Wizard
Both 'Mount Fang' and 'Cunning Mind'1
Other names


About this entry:

  • Updated 3 March 2001
  • Updates planned: 12


The unbreachable tower within the Ring of Isengard

Map of Orthanc and its surroundings

The mighty tower of unbreakable stone built by the Men of Gondor in the beginning of their realm, set in the Ring of Isengard at the southern feet of the Misty Mountains. It was latterly held by Saruman.



'Mount Fang' is the Elvish rendition of Orthanc's name, ultimately from the roots orod 'mountain, height' and thanc 'divided, forked', though doubtless influenced by anca ('jaws') to give 'Mount Fang' . The meaning 'cunning mind' comes from Old English orþanc, representing a word in the lexicon of the Rohirrim.

Tolkien himself is noncommittal on the name's origins. He says (in The Two Towers III 8, The Road to Isengard): '...the name of [Orthanc] had (by design or chance) a twofold meaning...'. It is possible, though, to speculate further on the beginnings of the name.

There are fairly good linguistic grounds for presuming that the 'Rohirric' meaning is the original, since orþanc is a real Old English word (actually a philosophical term, but meaning more or less 'cunning mind'). This name must have been given to the tower by the Rohirrim who lived in the lands around it, and would only make sense after Saruman's arrival (since his must have been the 'cunning mind' to which it referred). We can therefore fairly safely date the name 'Orthanc' as emerging in Rohan sometime after III 2759, the year Saruman took up residence there. That the name is also an approximate Elvish equivalent of 'Mount Fang' seems to be no more than a curious coincidence.

An alternative line of reasoning might be that the original builders of the tower named it Orthanc, intending a meaning like 'forked height' (referring to the horns marking its summit). This is not unreasonable in itself, but it also requires that, when the Rohirrim settled Rohan some 2,600 years later, the name would also happen to have a meaning in their language. Not only that, but the Rohirric name would itself need to prefigure an occupant of the tower - Saruman - who would not settle there for another two centuries. A string of coincidences like this is perhaps not impossible, but it does seem to stretch credibility.

The tower itself was much older than the Rohirrim: it had stood for more than 2,500 years before the land of Rohan even existed. Its builders, the early Gondorians, would almost certainly have given the tower an Elvish name, but that name is no longer known. The name they chose for the whole complex of Isengard, where Orthanc stood, is recorded: Angrenost, 'the fortress of Angren'.


About this entry:

  • Updated 3 March 2001
  • Updates planned: 12

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