The dwarves of yore made mighty spells
While hammers fell like ringing bells
In places deep where dark things sleep
In hollow halls beneath the fells

Source: https://songmeanings.com/songs/view/3530822107858620729/

I am trying to understand the meaning of "fells" here. I think it is not past tense of "fall" since there's an article there. "Fells" has many meanings according to Lexico. It can mean an animal skin or a timber cut. But I am not sure.

  • 1
    Basically, hollow halls beneath the fells is a poetic reference to caves here (stereotypically, dwarves live and work as miners underground). Mar 6, 2022 at 15:02

3 Answers 3


It's a mountain or wild upland moor.

The Tolkien poem in the question is actually used as one of the example sources in Wiktionary.

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    Yup. The noun: Fell (no relation to the English verb fall/fell) comes from Old Norse "fiall". The word is often used in parts of England for the names of specific mountains or hills, typically in Yorkshire and the Lake District (Cumbria) in England. The highest mountain in England is Scafell Pike.
    – Billy Kerr
    Mar 6, 2022 at 15:12
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    I think it would help the OP if you were to clarify why you can it means this with such certainty, as the problem they have with it is that it could mean many things. Why isn't it timber cut, for example?
    – Joachim
    Mar 6, 2022 at 16:13
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    Well, one reason is that if you look at the Wiktionary link I provided, it actually gives that Tolkien verse as an example of the use. But more generally, where I live in Yorkshire, that meaning of fell is almost an everyday word.
    – Colin Fine
    Mar 6, 2022 at 16:24
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    @Joachim - sorry to state the obvious, but none of the other senses of the plural noun "fells" would work here. Other meanings are: A covering of hair/wool/fleece. The last line of the weft in weaving. Fragments of lead ore. Fell type, designed by John Fell. Gall/bitterness.
    – Billy Kerr
    Mar 6, 2022 at 19:00
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    @Joachim: I don't know what answer you want. The meaning is obvious to me, because that is the most common meaning of the noun fell in my experience. The OP asked for the meaning of the word, and had done their research and found various possibilities. I answered as a native speaker, giving them the right answer.
    – Colin Fine
    Mar 6, 2022 at 21:41

To elaborate on Colin's answer...

The word "fells" has a few different meanings, depending on context:

Option 1 is the context of

On the average day, a lumberjack fells a dozen trees.

In that context the word would essentially mean "chops down" or "knocks over".

Option 2 is the context of

The huntsman sold seven fells today.

This usage is largely an archaic remnant of Old English, and was used to mean "an animal's hide/skin with it's hair".

Neither of those make much sense in that excerpt from The Hobbit - which gives us a bit of a clue that it's probably Option 3:

That there field has 3 fells in it.

In which case, it's just another word for a grassy hill (which may, or may not, be big enough to also be called a mountain). Meaning that he's saying that the dwarves live in caves under grassy hills.

Note, that this particular meaning is chiefly British (primarily used in the North of England and Scotland). Considering Tolkien himself wrote during one of the spikes of use for this meaning (and, I believe, he spent much of his life in the main regions the word is used), it reinforces the likelihood of him choosing to use this particular word in this scenario.

He also uses the relatively niche definition of "fell" elsewhere to describe evil forces (i.e. "fell hordes" to mean that the hordes were inhumanly evil).

  • 1
    I think you underestimate Tolkein when saying it was a current usage at the time. He was a philologist, so I imagine it was quite likely deliberate that he chose a word derived from the Norse in a poem about dwarves, who wrote in Runic scripts etc. I guess it would be more a discussion for Literature.SE than ELL.SE though.
    – richardb
    Mar 12, 2022 at 16:33
  • @richardb I wholly agree in the idea that it would be deliberate of him to use the most Nordic words, given the context - but in this particular instance, I'm not too sure what the alternatives may have been, so I suspect this one may have been a happy coincidence for him. Mar 14, 2022 at 9:03

"Fell" is a fairly obscure word meaning a grassy hill, particularly used in the northern parts of Britain.

About the only time it's really used these days is in the sport of "fell running", which is basically off-road trail running, across hilly moors.

So, "In hollow halls beneath the fells" means "Inside halls at the base of grassy hills".

  • 1
    There are of course, the Campsie Fells to the north of Glasgow, a bunch of hills which I have enjoyed many a walk.
    – Bib
    Mar 7, 2022 at 10:31
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    It's not obscure in Yorkshire
    – Colin Fine
    Mar 7, 2022 at 11:36
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    @ColinFine You misunderstand - the point is that Yorkshire itself is obscure, accounting for only 0.4% of the world's English speakers. This, by extension, makes its use of the word also obscure.
    – J...
    Mar 7, 2022 at 12:39
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    Not just Britain. There are several named fells in the Boston area, and a major road is called The Fellsway.
    – Barmar
    Mar 7, 2022 at 15:19
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    @J... I'd say it's not obscure in British English (but then I've always like walking in the mountains despite being a southerner). But calling Yorkshire "obscure"! I hope you're good at ducking.
    – Chris H
    Mar 7, 2022 at 16:30

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