What does 'living' mean in the following text from The Hobbit by Tolkien, page 120:

"These were not like those of the goblin-cities; they were smaller, less deep underground, and filled with a cleaner air. In a great hall with pillars hewn out of the living stone sat the Elvenking on a chair of carven wood."

I found the following meaning of the word 'live':

live (of rocks, ores, etc.) - not quarried or mined; native

Could the meaning be that the pillars were not made from a stone taken from elsewhere, but instead were cut from the native rock of the underground place they were in? In other words, the rock was cut around the pillars, leaving them in place and never having been moved.

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    this is not standard english, this is "fantasy" english. I read that and ignored it as meaningless fancy
    – WendyG
    Commented Feb 16, 2023 at 10:58
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    I disagree with Wendy here. I think "the living stone" means precisely what you say it means: that the rock was shaped in place. And even if the usage is original to Tolkien (and I'm guessing it isn't), it's fairly clear that that's what he intends the phrase to mean.
    – Jaime
    Commented Feb 16, 2023 at 11:00
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    I've since seen lots of references to "the living rock" and/or "the living stone" all over the internet (including on this site). It pre-dates Tolkien and means exactly as you say, Antipups Z.
    – Jaime
    Commented Feb 16, 2023 at 11:05
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    What a charming question. See also later in the book where we have the memorable line "He would not forget or forgive the theft, not if a thousand years turned him to smouldering stone" How exactly does stone smoulder? I guess when it is the fossil of a dragon only. :) Commented Feb 16, 2023 at 19:30
  • Could it mean "made of whole rocks, one on top another", i.e. just of usual smooth rocks - in contrast with rough rocks broken into pieces (due to being mined) ?
    – Nishi
    Commented Feb 17, 2023 at 9:53

1 Answer 1


Yes, that is exactly what it means.

Wikipedia says that living rock can refer to:

Rock-cut architecture, in phrases such as "hewn from the living rock"

(as well as the succulent plants known as 'living stones').

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    – Jaime
    Commented Feb 16, 2023 at 11:02
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    The term is also used outside of fantasy to refer to rock that is still forming via slowly depositing minerals in water, such as stalactite/stalagmite/pillar formations in caves. Commented Feb 17, 2023 at 16:33

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