Alongside common and rather familiar to us food J. R. R. Tolkien’s stories sometimes feature provisions not very typical of our world. Apart from being the means of nutrition, they also have potent powers, like, for instance, lembas. The waybread of the Elves is able to revive one’s powers even after a small bite. There is also a drink with similar qualities, and that is miruvor.

Miruvor (Sindarin; “precious juice”) is often referred to as ‘cordial’, and that name was chosen by Tolkien by no accident. Before looking at the properties of miruvor itself, I am going to have a brief overlook of historical cordials and the word etymology to see how it all fits in with the Elvish drink.

First cordials appeared in Europe (in Italy, to be more precise) during the Renaissance period. They were made by steeping herbs and/or spices in wine and then distilling the liquid. At that time and for a couple of centuries that followed cordials remained medicine. They were taken in small doses and for medical purposes: such drinks were believed to be good for one’s health. Cordials were prescribed to invigorate the body and spirits. They were also believed to free the whole body from diseases. However, and hence its name, cordials were thought to be of a special benefit for one’s heart. Original cordials were not sweetened, but as the time went by, they were becoming sweeter and thus evolved into alcoholic drinks that people consume after dinner. Today very different beverages go under the name cordial: in Britain it is a sweet drink with a fruit flavour, while in America the term is often used for liqueur.

The name cordial itself goes hand in hand with its original prescription for one’s heart. It dates back to 1400s in the meaning “of or pertaining to the heart”. The word history can be traced back to its Proto-Indo-European root:  Mediaeval Latin cordialis (of or for the heart) <— Latin cor (heart) <— PIE *kerd (heart). In late XIV century cordial also meant “medicine food or drink that stimulates the heart”.

Tolkien’s miruvor is far from the alcohol-based medicine of the past. However, it shares some of the qualities with those old drinks, thus reflecting the essence of the name cordial perfectly. Miruvor is known for its ability to revitalise both, the spirit and the body. In Middle-earth it was often referred to as “the cordial of Imladris”. It was a very precious drink that had to be used sparingly and only when it was absolutely necessary.

Gandalf received a flask of miruvor from Elrond when the Fellowship was setting out on their quest from Rivendell. The wizard used it only on three occasions and allowed everyone a small sip. Even though taken in very limited doses, the cordial had a miraculous effect on the exhausted and dispirited company:

As soon as Frodo had swallowed a little of the warm and fragrant liquor he felt a new strength of heart, and the heavy drowsiness left his limbs. The others also revived and found fresh hope and vigour.

(Fellowship of the Ring, p. 381)

The effect miruvor has on the heart is the first one in Frodo’s sensations, thus emphasising why exactly it is named cordial: the liquid goes straight to the drinker’s heart, uplifts it and raises the spirits together with renewing bodily strength or fighting exhaustion.

Just as lembas was used very sparingly even by the Elves, so was miruvor imbibed  in small doses and only at need. Such economy was very likely due to these products being very rare and thus precious. Having originated in the Blessed Realm, neither lembas nor miruvor could be made in exactly the same way in Middle-earth due to the lack of the necessary ingredients from the Valar’s gardens or fields, so it seems that even imitating these precious foods was quite a challenge in Middle-earth. Besides, for mortals, who were generally not supposed to eat essentially Elvish food like lembas or miruvor, their consumption could have an opposite effect: just as lembas could make a mortal grow weary of their mortality, so could miruvor work in a similar manner.

However, it seems that miruvor was rather lavishly consumed in Valinor. Miruvórë, as it was called in Quenya, was poured during festivals in Valinor. The Eldar did not have a clear idea about the drink origins, but they believed that the name miruvórë came from the Valarin language and that it was made from the honey of the undying flowers in Yavanna’s gardens. The drink was clear and translucent [2]. The miruvor of Middle-earth was most likely an imitation of the Valinorean miruvórë  which Galadriel remembered in her lament by the words “swift draughts of the sweet mead” (ibid, p. 496). In The Road Goes Ever On the parallels are drawn between miruvórë and the nectar of the Olympian Gods. In Greek mythology it was a divine drink that the Gods possessed. The nectar gave immortality to any mortal who was lucky to drink it, hence the possible meaning of the word nectar:  “death-defeater”. Stealing or attempting to steal is was a very grave offence.

The cordial of the Elves was renowned for its revitalising properties and the ability to invigorate the body and the spirit. Though some other races had similar cordials, none were as precious and potent as miruvor was.

Works consulted:

  1. J. R. R. Tolkien – The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring; HarperCollinsPublishers; London; 2001.
  2. D. Swann, J. R. R. Tolkien – The Road Goes Ever On.

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2 thoughts on “A drink of energy.

  1. The line about the “lack of necessary ingredients” in Middle-earth gets me thinking. Ugluk gave a drink to Merry that sounds like a dark reflection of miruvor. Did Orcs figure out the evil counterpart to Elrond’s recipe?

    1. I think it might be the case. If we take Ugluk, for instance, I don’t think miruvor was unknown to Saruman. So maybe he twisted the idea of the drink to create that foul liquid. Sauron must have also been in the know, and I believe he could come up with something like miruvor, only fouler.

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