Tolkien’s “Errantry”: Malachite stalactites


Malachite banding.  Emporia State University
Malachite banding. Emporia State University

Of crystal was his habergeon,
his scabbard of chalcedony,
his javelins were of malachite
and stalactite – he brandished them,
and went and fought the dragon-flies
of Paradise, and vanquished them.

— J. R. R. Tolkien, “Errantry”

Until doing this series on the treasures specified in Tolkien’s poem Errantry, I thought he used stalactite for scansion only. Those rocky icicles of carbonate that hang down from cave roofs aren’t gems!

Well, as usual, Tolkien knows best. All he did was insert an old-fashioned “and” in between malachite stalactite.

The semiprecious gemstone malachite is a carbonate and it does occur as a stalactite, as well as in rounded shapes or fibrous crystals.

The stalactites form as copper ore – which gives malachite its bright green to almost green-black color – weathers near a limestone deposit.


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Some of those pointy crystals would make excellent javelins. However, malachite has a low Mohs hardness…good thing our hero will only face dragon flies!

Away from fantastic battlegrounds, malachite also occurs in large chunks that can be carved into beautiful ornaments or tumbled into beads that make very popular jewelry, especially in the American Southwest.

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Next week, we’ll wrap up this series on the jewels of Errantry with a look at the biological treasures mentioned: coral and ivory.


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