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In J. R. R. Tolkien's legendarium, Isengard (/ˈzənɡɑːrd/) is a large fortress in the fictional universe of Middle-earth. It is a translation of the term Angrenost from the fictional language of Sindarin. Both terms mean "iron fortress" (cf. German: Eisen and Old English: īsen, meaning "iron"; Old English: geard, "enclosure").[1] Additionally, Isengard can mean "West Guard".[citation needed]

J.R.R. Tolkien's legendarium location
Escudo Isengard.svg
A shield displaying the White Hand of Isengard
First appearanceThe Fellowship of the Ring
TypeFortress built to guard the Gap of Rohan
RulerSaruman (T.A. 2759 - 3019)
Notable locationsThe Tower of Orthanc, the Ring of Isengard, the pillar of the White Hand, the Isen
Other name(s)Angrenost, Nan Curunír, Wizard's Vale
LifespanSecond AgeFourth Age
FounderGondor, during the time of Isildur

Orthanc, the great tower at the centre of Isengard, is one of the titular towers in The Two Towers (the second volume of The Lord of the Rings). The tower holds a palantír, a magical crystal ball, and is the residence of Saruman, a Wizard, at the time in which The Lord of the Rings is set. In the story, Isengard is the focus of several chapters; it is stormed by Ents, and visited by some of the Fellowship of the Ring.

Tolkien made a number of detailed sketches of Isengard and Orthanc as he developed his concept of the location. The drawings are published in J. R. R. Tolkien: Artist and Illustrator.[2]


In The History of Middle-earth, Tolkien states that Isengard was built in the Second Age around the tower of Orthanc by the Númenóreans in exile. It was located just outside the north-western corner of Rohan, guarding the Fords of Isen from enemy incursions into Calenardhon together with the fortress of Aglarond to its south.

The river Angren (or Isen) began on Methedras, the southernmost peak of the Misty Mountains. Methedras stood behind Isengard, forming its northern wall. The other three sides were guarded by a large wall, known as the Ring of Isengard, which was only breached by the inflow of the river Angren at the north-east through a portcullis, and the gate of Isengard at the south, at both shores of the river.

For most of its history, Isengard was a green and pleasant place, with many large trees and grass fields, fed by the Angren. Orthanc stood in the exact centre.

During the mid Third Age the land of Calenardhon became depopulated, and the last warden of Orthanc was recalled to Minas Tirith. Isengard remained guarded by a small company, led by a hereditary captain. Bit by bit though the messages from Minas Tirith decreased until they ceased altogether.

After Calenardhon was given to the Éothéod by Cirion, Steward of Gondor, and became Rohan, Isengard was the sole fortress retained by Gondor north of the Ered Nimrais (excluding Anórien), although Gondor almost forgot about it. The small guard intermarried much with the Dunlendings, until the fortress became Dunlending in all but name. Orthanc however remained closed, as the Steward of Gondor alone held the keys.

By T.A. 2710 the line of hereditary Captains died out and during the rule of Rohan's King Déor it was evident that Isengard had become openly hostile to the Rohirrim. Using Isengard as their base, the Dunlendings continued to raid Rohan during Déor's son Gram's rule, until during the rule of Gram's son Helm Hammerhand a Dunlending Lord, Freca and his son Wulf nearly managed to destroy the Rohirrim. The Rohirrim destroyed the invaders and blockaded Isengard, eventually taking it.

A more permanent solution was now needed for Isengard, as Gondor did not wish to relinquish its claim to one of the Towers of the Realm, but at the same time lacked the strength or inclination to garrison it. A solution presented itself to the Steward of Gondor, Beren, as Saruman (a Wizard) suddenly reappeared from the East, and he offered to guard Isengard. Beren gladly gave him the keys to Orthanc, and Saruman settled there. However at first he resided there as Warden of the Tower on behalf of Gondor. After him the valley became known as Nan Curunír, or "Valley of the Wizard". In T.A. 2953, taking advantage of Sauron's return and the resulting distraction of the Stewards, Saruman took Isengard for himself and became Lord of Isengard.

During the War of the Ring Isengard was Saruman's base of operations against the Rohirrim, and he defiled the valley, cutting down its trees. Isengard's valley was destroyed by deep pits, used for breeding Uruk-hai and smithing weapons. Isengard became home to countless Orcs, whom Saruman used to try to conquer Rohan. Eventually an army of Ents and Huorns led by Treebeard of Fangorn attacked Isengard, taking the fortress, although they could not take Orthanc, made as it was of impervious rock without seam or fault. The Hobbits Meriadoc Brandybuck and Peregrin Took, as the new "doorwardens", received Théoden King of Rohan, Aragorn and Gandalf at the gates.

During the Fourth Age Isengard was restored, and the entire valley granted to the Ents. The Ents tore down the walls of the ring, and named the new forest the Treegarth of Orthanc. Orthanc became again a tower of the Reunited Kingdom of King Aragorn Elessar.

Armour and emblemsEdit

The Orcs of Isengard bore upon their shields a White Hand on a black field, and on their helmets an S-rune ( ) to signify Saruman. A carved and painted White Hand of stone was set on a black pillar outside the gates of Isengard.[3]


Orthanc is the black tower of Isengard. Its name means both "Mount Fang" in Sindarin, and "Cunning Mind" in Old English, the language Tolkien uses to "translate" Rohirric.

Orthanc was, according to J. R. R. Tolkien's legendarium, built during the end of the Second Age by men of Gondor out of four many-sided columns of rock joined together by an unknown process and then hardened. No known weapon could harm it. Although the Ents could split ordinary stone with ease, their assault on the tower only left a few scratches and chips on its surface. Orthanc rose up to more than 500 feet[4] (150 metres; equivalent to 35 storeys) above the plain of Isengard, and ended in four sharp peaks. Its only entrance was at the top of a high stair, and above that was a small window and balcony.

Orthanc housed one of the palantíri of the South Kingdom, and was guarded by a special warden. In the days of the early Stewards the tower was locked and its keys taken to Minas Tirith. When Isengard fell to the Dunlendings in T.A. 2710 they were unable to enter the tower.

When Beren, Steward of Gondor, gave Isengard to the Wizard Saruman, he also gave him the keys of Orthanc. Saruman made it his base of operations during his search for the One Ring and later his attack on Rohan during the War of the Ring.

After his defeat, Saruman was confronted by Théoden King of Rohan, Gandalf and Aragorn, at which time Gríma Wormtongue, Saruman's servant, threw the palantír at the group in an attempt to kill them or possibly Gandalf. Saruman was then locked in Orthanc and guarded by Treebeard, but was later set free, turning the tower's keys over to Treebeard before leaving and taking Gríma with him. Treebeard's main reason for letting Saruman go was that he could not bear to see any living thing caged. Saruman exploited this weakness, most likely using his power with words.

During the Fourth Age Orthanc was searched by King Elessar, and he found there many heirlooms of Isildur, among them the original Elendilmir, the Star of Arnor, evidence that Saruman had found (and probably destroyed) Isildur's remains. Elessar also found there a casket designed to hold the One Ring.


Isengard and Orthanc appear in film adaptations of The Lord of the Rings. For The Lord of the Rings film trilogy, these were based on the designs of illustrator Alan Lee, who worked as a conceptual artist. According to Richard Taylor in the behind the scenes documentaries from the extended edition of The Fellowship of the Ring the original model for Orthanc was carved from micro-crystalline wax, intended to look as if it were carved out of obsidian.

Works citedEdit

  • Tolkien, J. R. R. (1954), The Fellowship of the Ring, The Lord of the Rings, Boston: Houghton Mifflin (published 1987), ISBN 0-395-08254-4
  • Tolkien, J. R. R. (1954), The Two Towers, The Lord of the Rings, Boston: Houghton Mifflin (published 1987), 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), ISBN 0-395-08256-0


  1. ^ Hall, John R. Clark (1894). A Concise Anglo-Saxon Dictionary: For the Use of Students. Swan Sonnenschein & Company. pp. 178, 130.
  2. ^ Wayne G. Hammond and Christina Scull (1995), J. R. R. Tolkien: Artist and Illustrator, Harper Collins, plates 162 to 165 (pp. 166-168), text pp. 169-171; ISBN 0-261-10322-9
  3. ^ Tolkien, J. R. R. (1954), The Two Towers, The Lord of the Rings, Boston: Houghton Mifflin (published 1987), Book III Ch. 1, The Departure of Boromir: "Upon their shields they bore a strange device: a small white hand in the centre of a black field; on the front of their iron helms was set an S-rune, wrought of some white metal"; Book III Ch. 2, The Riders of Rohan: "Great Orcs, who also bore the White Hand of Isengard"; Book III Ch. 8, The Road to Isengard, ISBN 0-395-08254-4
  4. ^ J. R. R. Tolkien (1954), The Two Towers, 2nd edition (1966), George Allen & Unwin, book 3 ch. VIII p. 160; ISBN 0 04 823046 4