In accordance with the instructions, this was done in exactly half an hour (down to the last word - no time for checking back here!). Since Iluvatar sees all, I consider this posting to constitute submitting it to Him. Should He wish to give me my score, I'm sure He knows where to find me.
1. Just exactly what was the nature of the friendship between Gimli and Legolas?
Legolas and Gimli were colleages in arms, and friends throughout their lives. Their relationship shows Tolkien's focus on bonds between couples, even when the couple in question is not a romantic pairing. See this.
2. If Aragorn had the option, would he have ditched the Fellowship for a date with Pamela Anderson?
Aragorn would never have forsaken the Fellowship for a romantic liason, partly because he knew the dire importance of Frodo's quest (and later his own to save Gondor and defeat Sauron), and partly because of how madly he was in love with Arwen. Note that he rebuffed all of Eowyn's advances because of Arwen, and she was right there.
3. Why didn't Gandalf just blow up the armies that got in his way, if he was so powerful?
Gandalf was sent to Middle-earth as a guide and counsellor, not a warrior. Further, he was not 'so powerful' - using a single Word of Power to block the door in Moria exhausted him. The most power we see him exercise was against the Warg attack in Eregion, and equally the Warg attack in 'The Hobbit'. That was a small-scale use of fire, not a massive explosion.
4. How many times is the word "passed" used in LotR? (No peeking!)
The precise count of specific words being used is not central to the understanding of Tolkien's words; rather, it is the context that is key. 'They passed him by' is a distinctly different prospect to 'He passed away', and Tolkien was certainly a skilled enough writer to use the word in every context he thought suitable.
5. What exactly was in lembas? (Hint: in Letters #210, JRRT says quite explicitly that lembas is not a "food concentrate".)
Lembas was a form of bread, essentially, made specifically by Elven queens - Galadriel and Melian are the only known bakers of it. The recipe was of course closely guarded, but originally required grain from the gardens of Yavanna. Precisely how this was adapted by the Exiles remains unknown.
6. Why didn't the hobbits in the Shire rise against Sharkey and his men sooner? (Were Frodo, Sam and the lads a cut above hobbitdom and thus extraordinary?)
The situation in the Shire is much the same as the apocryphal boiled frog. The 'stay-at-home' Hobbits didn't truly realise how bad things were getting until a group from outside arrived to show them what they had been before - a situation sadly common even today. Furthermore, the Shire wasn't exactly replete with weapons - four swords, skillfully wielded, made all the difference at the Battle of Bywater.
7. If Aragorn truly spent uncounted years as a lone Ranger, then where the hell is Tonto? And why doesn't he wear that mask?
The idea of Aragorn as a 'lone' Ranger is sadly misguided. Doubtless he did spend much time by himself, but never disconnected from his people: on the one hand, he spent significant time in Rivendell (and even Lothlorien!) with his elven kin, while on the other hand, the arrival of the Grey Company shows that he had large numbers of Dunedain he could rely on implicitly.
8. If Frodo hung the Ring on a chain, why didn't the chain turn invisible?
The One Ring was not simply magic; it was a tool crafted by Sauron to a specific purpose, after the model of the Seven and Nine. Turning random pieces of metal invisible - and thus becoming hopelessly lost - was not part of the Dark Lord's plan. Rather, the Seven and Nine were designed to turn sentient beings invisible, as part of their lure and corruption.
9. When Isildur had control of the One Ring, why didn't he use it to command the Ringwraiths? Or the Elven-rings? Or the Dwarven-rings? He could have ruled the whole of Middle-earth with that Ring, yet he decided instead to just write a couple of letters and then go for an unfortunate swim. What's his problem, anyway? Was he stupid?
Isildur had just lost his father and brother in the War against the wielder of the One Ring. But apart from that, there is no indication that he ever wore the thing. He took it as blood money, not as a weapon or tool, and may well have lacked the strength of character to use it even if he tried. Certainly he could not have influenced the bearers of the 'free' rings - the Three and the Seven - for they would not have worn them while Sauron was still at large, for fear of his overpowering them.
10. When Legolas introduces Gimli to Treebeard, Gimli bows low and his axe falls to the ground. Treebeard notices this, but merely comments "Hoom! A Dwarf and an axe-bearer!" rather than smash Gimli to Play-Doh™. Doubtless you've heard of the poem, "Woodsman, Spare That Tree!"; did Tolkien have plans to write another version, titled "Tree, Spare That Woodsman!"?
Treebeard, were he planning to write such a poem, would likely have made it extremely long; he would not be hasty, nor write the kinds of poems he sings, the ones written by the elves. Indeed, his slow character is the key to understanding this encounter: to destroy Gimli (or any visitor) on a whim was simply not in his nature.
11. Why is the tale of Beren and Luthien subtitled "Release from Bondage", when we never even once get to see her tied up? (And I was really hoping, too.)
Fortunately for Luthien the Nightingale, 'bondage' can also mean simple imprisonment. The real question is, who was released? Luthien, from her father, from Nargothrond, and from Celegorm and Curufin? Beren, from the horrors of his past? The Silmaril, from Morgoth's enslavement? Carcharoth, from the tyrrany of his monstrous form? Or Luthien again, from 'immortality while the world lasts' to 'passing beyond the world'? All of them, of course - but given Tolkien's view of 'the Gift of Men', the last plays a large part.
12. And if, as is likely, a bacterium had landed on the inner surface of the Ring, would the Ring corrupt it into an evil bacterium? Would it be invisible to other bacteria? Would its' life stretch out and become an unending weariness? Would it use its' increased strength and stature to rule over other bacteria? Would it fight to keep other bacteria from adhering to the Ring? Would it still evolve genetically, or would it instead become a Bacteria-wraith?
As stated earlier, the One Ring was designed to act on sentient beings. It would not turn its chain invisible, nor the water it fell into, nor a twig, nor a bacterium - and even if it did, the bacterium would not 'evolve genetically' regardless: being immortal, it would no longer be able to divide, and so would remain identical forever.
13. When the Dwarves of beautiful Khazad-Dum built their Western door, why did they allow it to be inscribed with the insulting name of "Moria" ("Black Pit"), a name that would only be earned long years afterwards?
No Sindarin name for Khazad-Dum is known before its fall. It may well be that 'Moria' was a name given in friendship and jest by the Eldar of Eregion - great friends of the dwarves of Durin's line. Indeed, it need not be read as insulting - a 'pit' is just another word for a mineshaft, and who knows what significance the colour black (the hue of cast iron) had to the Longbeards? Perhaps, if we had seen the inscription on the inside of the gate, it would have described the road to 'horrid empty fields' - a similar name of similar purpose. With the awakening of the Balrog and the invasion of the Orcs, the once lighthearted name obtained a dreadful new significance.
14. Reconcile Tom Bombadil's statement that he is "Eldest" with Gandalf's statement that Fangorn is "the oldest of all living things". Extra Credit: suggest a valid date of birth for each of them. Document your answers.
Bombadil is a nature spirit, and as such has no 'date of birth'; he is 'oldest and fatherless', as Elrond says, and came into being at the same moment as Arda itself, as the embodiment of its lands. Fangorn, however, is the oldest 'living thing' - of all the animals and creatures that have been born into the world, he is the one which has survived the longest. When his sapling sprouted is unknown, but his date of sentience is just after Aule created the dwarves - when Yavanna appealed to Iluvatar on behalf of the trees. Fangorn was one of the first Ents - one of only three who still survive.
15. Aragorn states (Two Towers, p. 18 hardback) that Sauron never uses the name "Sauron", nor does he "permit it to be spelt or spoken". Reconcile this text with the text of Return of the King, p. 164 hardback, where the Lieutenant of Barad-Dur clearly states, "I am the Mouth of Sauron".
The Mouth of Sauron is clearly a significant figure in the heirarchy of Mordor; he may even have held a dwarven ring, and one theory identifies him with one of the later Black Numenorean rulers of Umbar, and the dark figure seen in Tolkien's later work 'The New Shadow'. A person of such authority, in such a regime, is always looking to expand and test his rights. In the relative safety of Dagorlad, away from Sauron's watchful eye, the Mouth was willing to speak the dire, unspeakable name.
16. Though Moria is, by rightful ownership, Dain's, Balin nonetheless referred to himself as "Lord of Moria". Helm's Deep is clearly the property of the Rohirrim, being part of lands granted to them by Gondor long years ago, yet in Return of the King p. 360 hardback Gimli declares himself "Lord of the Glittering Caves". Explain the laws and history pertaining to Dwarven property rights, and how those differed from the customs of Elves and Men. For full credit your answer must also reconcile Dwarven property laws with the generous nature of Aule, the Dwarves' creator.
There is a clear distinction between the dwarves' use of 'Lord' and 'King'. Dain is, by right, King of Moria, and none would usurp that title; equally, Eomer is King of Aglarond. But each of those realms may also have a Lord - a chief miner and architect, whose purpose is to work the caves for the glory of the king, turning them into something greater than they were. In this way, they resemble Aule - the 'Lords' are not coveters of jewels, but displayers and artists, revealing them to the world.
17. How would the history of Middle-earth have differed if Sauron had returned to Aman and received the judgement of Manwe at the end of the First Age, rather than remaining in Middle-Earth (Silmarillion p. 285 hardback)? Describe resultant cultural differences which would have taken place in the Second, Third and Fourth Ages. Special emphasis should be given to the cultures of the Grey Havens, Numenor (including the Dunedain and the Black Numenoreans), the Rohirrim, the Dunlendings and others descending from the peoples of the White Mountains, the Ents, the peoples of Khand, the Orcs (particularly those tribes living in the Grey, Misty and Ash Mountains and the Mountains of Shadow), the Elven peoples of Gil-Galad (include Elrond and the likelihood of Rivendell's being constructed), the Hobbits (beginning from when they were living in the Vales of Anduin), and the Haradrim (both Near and Far Harad must be covered for full credit). Also speculate on the differences in culture which would take place in Aman as Sauron describes his experience with evil to the Valar, Maiar, and Eldar living there. On Silmarillion p. 65, it states that "Manwe was free from evil and could not comprehend it"; would he gain an understanding of evil from the experiences of Sauron? Be prepared to defend your answer.
Without Sauron, Numenor would not have sunk - but it would still have fallen. Its domains would have expanded ever eastward and southward, subsuming all the Mannish cultures. Eregion and Lindon, Lorien and Greenwood, would have become the 'North Kingdoms' of the Elves, while the rest of the land became dominated by the Black Numenoreans. An industrial society, aided by the eastern kingdoms of the dwarves, would have come to rule all of Middle-earth, even unto Far Harad.
Obviously, I ran out of time on the last two questions to really cover them fully. They may end up given a complete dissection elsewhere on Netilardo. We shall see. Still, I think this was a valiant effort - and fun, too.
"We should note that Tolkien states explicitly in Letters #181 that 'the One retains all ultimate authority', and therefore when you have completed your test you should submit it directly to Eru Iluvatar for grading." - The Tolkien Sarcasm Page