Middle-Earth Explained: Moria And The Dwarves Of The 2nd Age

The recent reveal of an official synopsis for Amazon Prime’s The Lord Of The Rings adaptation has left us all excited to jump back into Middle-earth and revel in the many joys it has to offer us. But to get fully prepared for Amazon’s upcoming series requires more than just a movie marathon or even a reread of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord Of The Rings – Amazon is pulling from Tolkien’s extensive deep lore for their series, and diving into regions of Middle-earth previously unexplored by either the films or main books.

Moria
The Doors Of Moria | lotro-wiki.com

But chances are you’ve probably heard of Moria, at the very least: out of all the locations prominent in the Second Age of Middle-earth, the lost underground kingdom of the Dwarves is one of the few that still plays a major part in The Lord Of The Rings itself, albeit mostly as a richly layered backdrop to the death of Gandalf the Grey and the reappearance of Gollum. Peter Jackson’s adaptation of The Fellowship Of The Ring immortalized Moria as a soaring CGI spectacle unlike anything audiences in 2001 had ever seen before. And since then, the “You Shall Not Pass” meme of Gandalf defending the Bridge of Khazad-dûm has seeped into popular culture so that, even if you don’t know the accursed name of Moria, you’ve probably already been introduced to it at some point, somehow.

But onscreen thus far (and for that matter in Tolkien’s writing, and in most artwork) Moria has only been depicted in its ruined state, as it appeared to the Fellowship when they passed through in the year 3019 of the Third Age, seeking shelter from the inhospitable Misty Mountains. Amazon’s series, set in the Second Age of Middle-earth, will take us back to a time long before the ruins and the rumors of the dreadful Balrog sleeping in the dark heart of the mountains, before the name of “Moria” was even coined to refer to the Black Pit once known far and wide by its true name – Khazad-dûm, the greatest kingdom of the Dwarves, and the seat of their entire civilization.

And I, as your Middle-earth tour guide for today, will take you back still further, to the First Age and the founding of Khazad-dûm in the darkness before the first dawn. Middle-earth, at this early point in history, made up only half of what was then still a flat, disc-shaped world – the other half being Valinor, the blessed land of the Gods (named Valar, in Tolkien’s mythos). But while Valinor was eternally basked in light, Middle-earth was shrouded in ceaseless darkness save for the faint and far-off light of the stars (the sun and moon had yet to be created, which should give you a sense of how far back in time we’re talking). The Valar, under the guidance of Eru Ilúvatar, had ordained that the Elves should be the first people to inhabit this strange world, and Dwarves didn’t ever come into their equations.

Dwarves were instead conceived by Aulë, one of the Valar who was most impatient for the arrival of the Elves and decided to create life of his own to populate Middle-earth in the meantime. Aulë created seven Dwarves out of clay and stone before Eru found out and admonished him for going against His plan. Aulë was reluctantly prepared to unmake his creations, but Eru was merciful and told Aulë to instead put the Dwarves to sleep until after the coming of the Elves. So Aulë traveled across Middle-earth and laid the seven Fathers of the Dwarves under deep mountains in the wilderness where they would neither be disturbed nor disturb Eru’s plan.

The plan went smoothly. After the Elves had awoken and dispersed across the world, it was time for the Dwarves to follow in their footsteps. Of the seven Fathers, Tolkien only recorded the journey of one – Durin, who awoke first underneath Mount Gundabad in the Misty Mountains, and migrated southwards through uncharted lands. His journey only ended after he discovered a lake beneath the mountains’ shadow, which he named Kheled-zâram in honor of the crown of stars reflected in its clear waters. Durin took this reflection as a sign of his kingship over the Dwarves, and he began the building of Khazad-dûm just west of the lake to be his home, and the home of all the House of Durin (also known as the Longbeards). Durin was called the Deathless, not because he was immortal, but because it was believed that he would be reincarnated seven times among his descendants. One of these later Durins, Durin III, was King of Khazad-dûm during the formative years of the Second Age.

Moria
Mines Of Moria (art by Tom Lay) | Twitter @ralphbakshi

Throughout the First Age, Khazad-dûm expanded further westwards until there were entrances to the city on both sides of the Misty Mountains – but it was still far to the east of most Elven settlements in those days, and the Elves in Middle-earth had fewer dealings with Durin’s folk than with the Dwarves who lived in the cities of Belegost and Nogrod under the Blue Mountains. Khazad-dûm therefore escaped the wars between the Elves and their great nemesis Morgoth, and the violence between Elves and Dwarves that erupted frequently over treasures valuable to both. But when the First Age ended in calamity, and Belegost and Nogrod (and a good chunk of Middle-earth) were sent crashing into the sea, Khazad-dûm gladly opened its doors to the survivors from both cities: much to the benefit of their own civilization and culture, which flourished under the mountains. A string of Dwarven cities and settlements grew under the Misty Mountains, between Khazad-dûm in the south and Gundabad in the far north.

In the wreck of the world, many High Elves were also forced into closer proximity with the Dwarves who had long been their enemies, though it was only in the kingdom of Eregion, near the western entrance of Khazad-dûm, that this intermingling of the two peoples resulted in harmony rather than conflict. Eregion’s king, the craftsman Celebrimbor, was awestruck by the Dwarves and their mighty works of stone beneath the earth, and he eagerly struck up an alliance with them. Together with the Dwarven blacksmith Narvi, he built the great doors in the western wall of Khazad-dûm through which the Fellowship would pass thousands of years later: they were adorned with the intertwined symbols of the House of Durin and the House of Fëanor, Celebrimbor’s grandfather (and you wonder why I ship Celebrimbor and Narvi?). The Dwarves helped Celebrimbor as well, sharing with him much of their most precious resource, the exceedingly strong metal known as mithril, or “Moria-silver” as it was later called, which could only be found far below Khazad-dûm, in mines that reached deep into the fiery heart of Middle-earth. Mithril was used to decorate all the high halls of the Dwarves as well as their weapons and armor; an alloy of it named ithildin went into the making of the western doors; and Celebrimbor forged the ring Nenya out of it, so that it shone like a star.

But the rings were Celebrimbor’s downfall. With the help of a seemingly benevolent stranger named Annatar, Celebrimbor designed his Rings of Power to heal Middle-earth’s hurts and wipe clean its stain of sorrow. They forged sixteen Rings, almost all of which were intended to be distributed among the Elves – but Tolkien played with the idea that Celebrimbor personally presented one Ring to Durin III. Certainly that story seems more likely than the alternative, which would be that Annatar, after having revealed himself as the dark lord Sauron, betrayed and brutally murdered Celebrimbor, and stolen all but three of the Rings of Power, decided to give one to Celebrimbor’s closest ally. It would also lend special significance to Sauron’s later hunt for the ring given to Durin III, which would finally be ripped from the hand of Durin’s descendant Thráin in the dungeons of Dol Guldur during the Third Age – as that would then be the only Ring (besides the Three made without his knowledge and given to the Elves) that he had never previously controlled. Either storyline has potential for good drama, to be honest.

After Sauron ransacked Eregion in search of the Rings, Khazad-dûm was forced to shut its western doors, which had long stood open as a sign of friendship and trust between Elves and Dwarves. Durin’s folk stayed secluded throughout the rest of the Second Age, mostly pursuing a policy of isolationism. But without Khazad-dûm guarding the Misty Mountains, orcs crept back into caverns and tunnels they had long abandoned out of fear of the Dwarves, and became emboldened to launch a successful conquest of Mount Gundabad, the birthplace of Durin. Thus, by the time Khazad-dûm reopened its gates at the end of the Age and sent forth armies to help defeat Sauron in the War of the Last Alliance, it was already too late for the Dwarves to recapture much of the underground empire they had lost.

By the beginning of the Third Age, Khazad-dûm’s glory days were well behind it, and the Dwarves were forced to dig ever deeper for mithril. Nonetheless, it took them almost two-thousand years before they dug slightly too far – and awoke something that had been lying coiled in slumber beneath the roots of the Misty Mountains for millennia. It was a Balrog, a demonic entity of flame and shadow that had served the dark lord Morgoth in the First Age, and fled under the earth’s crust during the breaking of the world (Tolkien never mentions this, but it must therefore have also slept through the end of the Second Age, when Middle-earth was transformed from a flat disc into a globe, and as a fellow heavy sleeper I can relate to that so much). The Balrog erupted into Khazad-dûm, killing King Durin VI and his son, and forcing the survivors to flee into the wilderness on both sides of the Misty Mountains.

Moria
The Balrog Of Moria (art by Frank Paul) | wallpaperflare.com

And from thence on, the empty city was known by the name of Moria, and its people led lives in exile, whether in the Blue Mountains west of the Shire or in new kingdoms such as Erebor and the Iron Hills. Moria fell into waste and ruin, while Sauron’s orcs and goblins plundered the wreckage for treasures – particularly mithril, which Sauron coveted. The Balrog remained awake, roaming the deepest halls of the Dwarves in silence, worshipped as a god by Sauron’s minions. An attempt to retake Moria, led by Balin of Erebor, was met with stiff resistance from the orcs – who eventually slew the old Dwarf while he bent to look into Kheled-zâram. Balin’s small band of colonizers was whittled down until all were starved or killed, and Moria returned to darkness.

Peter Jackson’s trilogy simplifies the story ever so slightly, implying (just vaguely enough that most book purists don’t get upset) that Moria had only recently been desecrated when the Fellowship passed through, and that under King Balin it had flourished. In truth, Balin’s reign over Moria was very brief and unremarkable: a doomed attempt to rebuild amongst the ruins of an unattainable ancient grandeur, and to recapture some fragment of the city’s long-gone splendor.

Middle-earth Explained: Eregion And The Rings Of Power

The recent reveal of an official synopsis for Amazon Prime’s The Lord Of The Rings adaptation has left us all excited to jump back into Middle-earth and revel in the many joys it has to offer us. But to get fully prepared for Amazon’s upcoming series requires more than just a movie marathon or even a reread of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord Of The Rings – Amazon is pulling from Tolkien’s extensive deep lore for their series, and diving into regions of Middle-earth previously unexplored by either the films or main books.

Eregion
Eregion in ruins | aminoapps.com

Eregion, however, has a rare distinction in that, although it’s glimpsed in both the books (the Fellowship of the Ring passes through its ruins on their journey south from Rivendell), and the movies (in fact, it’s the very first location you see in Jackson’s trilogy, while Cate Blanchett is narrating the history of the One Ring), its most prominent exposure to date is in the deeply flawed Middle-earth video games, Shadow Of Mordor and Shadow Of War. These games break Tolkien lore in ways that are frankly appalling (Shelob is a shape-shifting sorceress, Isildur is a Nazgûl, and Celebrimbor’s ghost becomes one half of Sauron’s fiery eye). But they did at least give players a basic rundown of the history of Celebrimbor, Eregion, and the forging of the Rings of Power in the Second Age – events that will be pivotal to Amazon’s series, set in the same time-frame. That being said, the non-canonical and hyperbolic nature of the games makes them a faulty source for accurate information…which is my long-winded way of saying “trust me instead”.

I recounted some of the ancient history of the Elves in Middle-earth while discussing Lindon and the Grey Havens, so what immediately follows may be familiar to some of my readers. But while the paths of Lindon and Eregion diverged early in the Second Age, they have a common root in the First Age, during a mythical, peaceful era before the creation of the sun and moon and thus beyond the margins of recorded history. During this time-before-time, Middle-earth was only one half of a flat, disc-shaped world – its other half being the paradisiacal continent known as Valinor, where a pantheon of benevolent gods named Valar presided over a flourishing community of Elves well-versed in all the arts and sciences available to them: and even some beyond our modern capabilities. In the absence of a sun, Valinor’s primary light source was a duo of glowing trees, which is a random important detail.

The most creative-minded Elves in Valinor were the Noldor Elves, and the greatest among them was Fëanor, an inventor who had foresight as well as unparalleled skill and an indomitable ego. He’s a bit of a divisive figure in-universe: everyone had mad respect for his accomplishments, and he did create a trinity of magical gems called Silmarils to house the light of the Two Trees of Valinor, because he accurately predicted that the evil Morgoth would kill the Trees and plunge Valinor into darkness…he just didn’t foresee the bit where Morgoth also stole the Silmarils. Fëanor’s backup plan for his backup plan involved leading most of the Noldor on a wild-goose chase to Middle-earth to try and find Morgoth, killing any Elves who stood in their way: all of this, mind you, against the orders of the Valar, who forbade any of them to return to Valinor after what they had done. And then Fëanor got himself killed roughly ten minutes into the expedition (yes, minutes: while the Noldor were freaking out, the Valar had gone and fixed the whole light-source problem by creating the sun, adding insult to injury), leaving his followers leaderless and stranded in Middle-earth with Morgoth, and saddling his descendants with an unbreakable oath to recover the Silmarils or die trying.

Only Tolkien could take this comedic gold and write it as an epic tragedy.

Eregion
Celebrimbor | aminoapps.com

Needless to say, the Noldor were really angry and really confused about their life-choices by the time the First Age ended and the Valar finally arrived to set things straight, casting Morgoth into the void. The Valar offered them all a choice to return to Valinor and repent for their crimes, but most of the Noldor refused out of pride, bitterness, or a desire to prove they could be self-sufficient. For some, it was all three – plus an almost subliminal urge to build Middle-earth into a mirror image of Valinor and rival the glory of the gods. Never a good idea, especially when the gods are real and prone to violence. But the main proponent of this philosophy was Fëanor’s grandson, Celebrimbor, so…yeah, not surprising at all.

Celebrimbor lived in Lindon under King Gil-galad during the early years of the Second Age, but eventually grew bored and struck off on his own. Charismatic like his grandfather, he attracted a large following – and was soon able to build his own kingdom in the foothills of the Misty Mountains, which he called Eregion. Celebrimbor was actually a decent leader. He was on good terms with the neighboring Dwarves of Khazad-dûm, with whom he traded knowledge and precious mithril steel (also, him and Narvi the Dwarf were totally doing the whole “forbidden love” thing centuries before Tauriel and Kili, or Legolas and Gimli). He promoted the arts, set up a guild of crafts-people, and began work on his agenda to make heaven a place on Middle-earth. Eregion even attracted guests like Galadriel and Celeborn, who lived there for a time.

But Celebrimbor’s frantic urge to outdo the Valar made him the perfect target for Sauron, a fallen angel who had served Morgoth, and who now rose to fill the power-vacuum left in his wake. A tyrannical perfectionist, Sauron’s ultimate goal was similar to Celebrimbor’s – he too wanted to elevate Middle-earth above and beyond its mortal limitations, but he was uniquely hindered by his inability to create real beauty. Nonetheless, wearing the beautiful disguise of an Elven emissary from Valinor named Annatar, he was able to infiltrate Eregion and seduce the Noldor with his repeated assurances that the Valar wished for them to redesign Middle-earth in the image of paradise. Thus, Sauron was able to harness the skill of the Elves for his own purposes.

Together, each learning from the other, Celebrimbor and Annatar forged sixteen Rings of Power. These were not distributed immediately to Men and Dwarves, as the movies indicate (Tolkien toyed with the notion that Celebrimbor only gave away one in his lifetime: to Durin III, King of Khazad-dûm, as a token of friendship). Celebrimbor had designed these Rings to be worn by Elves, to help and heal Middle-earth; and it was Sauron’s secret hope that he could control the Elves through their Rings, into which he had poured dark magic of his own. In Second Age 1600, having sufficiently mastered the art of Ring-making and confident that the Noldor would wear the Rings he had helped make for them, Sauron left Eregion and returned to his own land, in foul Mordor. But he underestimated the perfectionism he had instilled in his followers: the Noldor he had left behind continued work on three more Rings of their own, far greater than the sixteen.

In Mordor, Sauron secretly forged One Ring – a Master Ring with the power to ensnare all others and their wearers. But as soon as he put it on, Celebrimbor became aware of his treachery, and demanded that the newly-finished Three Rings be distributed swiftly to the greatest leaders of the Elven people, Gil-galad, Galadriel, and Círdan, and hidden from Sauron forever. They were not made by Sauron, so he could not control them from afar, but they were made with knowledge learned from him; and were thus tied to his fate, and that of the One Ring.

Eregion
Sauron Forges The One Ring | rainbowdark.com

Sauron nonetheless perceived that Eregion was his greatest threat, and threw all his force against the Elven kingdom. With the help of orc-armies, he ransacked and destroyed the forges of the Noldor, and captured Celebrimbor. The king was ruthlessly tortured until he revealed the locations of the sixteen Rings (or fifteen, assuming Durin III already had one), which Sauron quickly recovered. But he would say nothing of the Three Rings, and Sauron eventually had him killed, thus ending the line of Fëanor. His brutally-mangled body was hung on a pole and used by Sauron’s armies as a banner in their war against the Elves.

With Eregion destroyed, no new Rings would ever be forged, nor would Celebrimbor’s purpose for them be achieved. Middle-earth sank further into darkness and despair as Sauron begrudgingly distributed his stolen Rings among Dwarves and Men, since his plan to control the Elves had backfired. Men were easily corruptible, but the Dwarves proved resistant, and their rings became the foundations of great treasure-hoards under the earth. The Three Rings were not used during the Second Age.

The survivors from Eregion dispersed across Middle-earth, mainly to Lindon and the refuge of Rivendell, but many became disheartened, sailing back to the Undying Lands in Valinor. By the end of the Third Age, Eregion was a tumbled heap of ruins, and even the stones on which its foundations had been built had long since forgotten the Elves, their Rings of Power, and all their dreams of paradise. Now that’s tragic.

Middle-earth Explained: Lindon And The Elves Of The Second Age

The recent reveal of an official synopsis for Amazon Prime’s The Lord Of The Rings adaptation has left us all excited to jump back into Middle-earth and revel in the many joys it has to offer us. But to get fully prepared for Amazon’s upcoming series requires more than just a movie marathon or even a reread of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord Of The Rings – Amazon is pulling from Tolkien’s extensive deep lore for their series, and diving into regions of Middle-earth previously unexplored by either the films or main books.

Lindon
“The Grey Havens” by The Brothers Hildebrandt | baltimoresun.com

Lindon is by no means a name familiar to most Tolkien fans, so it’s understandable if you need a reminder about where it is in Middle-earth – though, in fact, both The Lord Of The Rings books and films did very briefly enter Lindon in the saga’s emotional climax. Described in Amazon’s synopsis as an “elf-capital” with “majestic forests”, Lindon is more recognizable as the Elven land west of the Shire where the Grey Havens were located…and from which Frodo and Bilbo set sail at the end of the Third Age, seeking out spiritual healing in the Uttermost West. This bit tends to be confusing for many first-time Tolkien fans, particularly movie-goers; the films don’t set it up as well as they should, and it never gets explained, leading to the entire sequence often being mistakenly interpreted as an allegory for Frodo dying.

But if you’ve ever wondered what happens to the Bagginses after they sail into the sunset at the end of The Return Of The King, then this is the post for you – and in the process, you’ll also learn everything you need to know about Lindon and its people before Amazon brings them to life on the small screen.

Amazon’s Middle-earth series, while still titled The Lord Of The Rings, is set thousands of years before the events of the trilogy, in the Second Age of Middle-earth during a time of mighty empires and epic heroes…but our story begins even further back, in the First Age. The world was flat like a tabletop, and still newly formed, and there were really only two continents: the westernmost of the two being Valinor, the land of the gods (or Valar, as they’re called in Tolkien’s myths), and the easternmost being…well, Middle-earth. The race of Elves originated in the uncharted forests of Middle-earth early in the First Age, predating the creation of the sun and moon by at least a millennia or two and explaining their collective fascination with stars, the only real source of light during their formative years as a species. The Valar had foreseen their coming, and what with the Elves being the subject of a whole bunch of prophecies, and a particularly nasty Dark Lord named Morgoth roaming through Middle-earth at the time, it was in everyone’s best interests for the Valar to herd the Elves westward, and over the sea into Valinor. Along the way, some Elves got fed up and went home, or got lost, or found other places to settle down…to keep things simple, I’m referring to those stragglers as Silvan Elves, though the proper blanket term for them is the Nandor. Anyway, remember them: they show up again later.

Of the Elves who made it all the way to Valinor and flourished there under the benevolent influence of the Valar, the most prominent and promising were always the skilled, hotheaded people known as the Noldor. But just three stolen gemstones and two dead trees later, Valinor had been plunged into chaos, and most of the Noldor recklessly took off for Middle-earth, pursuing Morgoth, the culprit, with an unholy vengeance in their hearts – all while openly rebelling against the Valar, who had insisted they stay put in Valinor while the gods dealt with Morgoth themselves. The Noldor established countries and civilizations of their own in Middle-earth, most of which toppled to ruin at the end of the First Age: when the Valar finally defeated Morgoth in battle, trampling mountains into the sea and flooding the entire region known as Beleriand until only a sliver of it remained; that sliver being Lindon, a coastal landmass just barely big enough to contain the entire suddenly displaced population of Beleriand – and not just the Elves, but the Men and Dwarves too.

Lindon
Elves “At Lake Cuivienen” by Ted Nasmith | pinterest.com

The Second Age opens with the Valar offering all of the exiled Noldor a chance to repent for their crimes and return to Valinor. Many Elves agreed to do so, but many more did not – instead choosing to stay in Middle-earth. Nonetheless, the option to sail back to Valinor was still available to all Elves at any time, and only made more accessible when Círdan the Shipwright completed building his Grey Havens in Lindon in the first year of the Second Age. But while Círdan presided over the Havens, he was never called a king – that title belonged to his adopted son, Gil-galad, who had become High King of the Noldor at a young age, and was by this point acknowledged as the highest-ranking Elven King in all of Middle-earth. Gil-galad stayed in Lindon even while many of his people migrated further eastward, settling new lands in Eregion and beyond.

Amazon’s description of Lindon as an “elf-capital” is both misleading (the closest thing to a city was the Grey Havens) and accurate, in a way: Lindon was a rural melting-pot populated by both Noldor and Silvan Elves, the latter of whom had lived there long before Gil-galad’s arrival. Tolkien hinted at the notion of a deep divide between the Elves from Valinor and those of Middle-earth, which I expect to see explored further in Amazon’s series; as the two peoples clash after their long estrangement, in a cultural and societal conflict. Meanwhile, Dwarves lived in the Blue Mountains that encircled Lindon – though their underground mansions of Nogrod and Belegost were both at least partially-destroyed by the turmoil of Morgoth’s fall.

Midway through the Second Age, Gil-galad warded off an attempt by the Dark Lord Sauron to infiltrate Lindon disguised as an emissary of the Valar named Annatar. Though Gil-galad could not guess at Annatar’s true identity, he sent warnings to his Elven kinsfolk across Middle-earth about the mysterious stranger – warnings that were ignored in Eregion, where Annatar was allowed to become a powerful and influential figure, overseeing the construction of all but three of the great Rings of Power. Those remaining three were secretly given to Gil-galad, Círdan, and Galadriel for safekeeping after Annatar betrayed the Elves of Eregion (*pretends to be shocked*), forging the One Ring to control them all.

Sauron’s brutality in Middle-earth drove many Elves back under the protective aegis of Gil-galad, whose power was still too great for Sauron to challenge – but some, out of fear and grief, fled across the sea to Valinor, never to return. Gil-galad brought in aid from Númenor to help conquer Sauron, unintentionally sparking a grudge-match between Sauron and the island kingdom of Men that eventually resulted in Númenor and most of its population being dragged into the ocean abyss; Valinor being removed from the Circles of the World by divine intervention (though still accessible via the “Straight Road” open only to Elven ships); and the earth being made round. Lindon lost many of its beaches, but otherwise scraped by.

In the final years of the Second Age, Lindon’s Elven armies played a pivotal part in bringing about the defeat of Sauron (albeit a temporary defeat). The last Númenórean refugees led by Elendil joined forces with Gil-galad’s Noldor and Silvan Elves in what became known as the Last Alliance, and together they pursued Sauron south across Middle-earth, into the mountains and volcanic wastelands of Mordor. There, on the slopes of Mount Doom, Gil-galad was burned to death by Sauron’s fiery hand: and with him died the kingship of the Noldor. His Ring of Power, Vilya, was saved by his young herald, Elrond, who later used it to heal Middle-earth’s hurts from his dwelling in the refuge of Rivendell. Lindon, meanwhile, faded in significance in the absence of its noble King, becoming little more than a rest stop on the one-way trip to paradise for world-weary Elves and occasional Ringbearers.

Lindon
The Grey Havens | looper.com

So next time you read the books or watch the movies, and get to those heart-wrenching final scenes at the Grey Havens, spare a thought for what was once the greatest realm of the Elves between the Mountains and the Sea in the Second Age – and think ahead to Amazon’s series, which will allow us to finally witness Lindon in all its glory.

Tell me what place in Middle-earth you’re most excited to see, and be sure to share your own thoughts, theories, and opinions, in the comments below!

Has Augustus Prew Joined “The Lord Of The Rings”?

Rejoice, my fellow Tolkien fans! For today we have learned about substantial new evidence to support the theory that an actor has recently joined the cast of Amazon Prime’s upcoming The Lord Of The Rings series. Although it’s not yet official, the evidence is very strong, and if nothing else it should help to fill the void in Tolkien fandom discourse that until recently was being filled by think-pieces regarding sexuality and nudity in Middle-earth, and…well, that’s a conversation I think we can probably take a break from at this point, no? I’ve made my thoughts on the matter clear, at any rate.

The Lord Of The Rings
Augustus Prew | hollywoodreporter.com

This new theory comes to us from Fellowship Of Fans, a very reliable YouTube channel that also revealed some of the first behind-the-scenes photos from the set (showing some mountainous set design), and has kept up to date with The Lord Of The Rings cast and crew’s social media, scouring for clues and hints about filming locations, characters, etc. Today, Fellowship Of Fans revealed that Augustus Prew, an English actor with a solid resume in films and TV, has quite possibly joined The Lord Of The Rings cast. Prew has been in New Zealand for some time, and his Instagram posts indicate that he’s been staying close to various filming locations for the series. Most of the other cast-members in the show, as well as director J.A. Bayona, follow Prew and regularly interact with his posts, and he follows several of them back, including Bayona and The Lord Of The Rings On Prime‘s official Instagram account. It’s not enough proof to say anything for certain, but it’s looking very likely at this point that Prew will indeed be joining Amazon Prime’s Middle-earth adventure.

The big question, of course, is who will he be playing? The Tolkien community on Twitter has speculated that he might be Gil-galad, due to his passing resemblance to Mark Ferguson, who played the High King of the Noldorin Elves for about three or four seconds in Peter Jackson’s The Fellowship Of The Ring. It’s actually a pretty good theory and the attention to continuity would be admirable. COVID-19 has made it extremely difficult to discern when filming is going on and how much has been completed, but I did momentarily doubt whether such a major casting would come seemingly so late in the game, with the two-part pilot reportedly finished and the rest of the season already underway (filming is rumored to end sometime around March or April of next year) – until I realized that Prew has been in New Zealand since at least September, giving him plenty of time to film scenes for the pilot. Really, anything is possible, but Prew’s facial features do seem to suggest that he’s playing an Elven character, and Gil-galad is an obvious choice.

The Lord Of The Rings
Gil-galad | lotrfanon.fandom.com

But if he’s not Gil-galad, I’m going to throw out a different theory, for which I have precisely no evidence. I think Prew could be playing Oropher, the King of Mirkwood (before it was actually called Mirkwood, back when it was still the Greenwood). Oropher was the father of Thranduil, whom Lee Pace memorably portrayed in The Hobbit trilogy, and I can see a resemblance between Prew and Pace – with a platinum blond wig, ice-blue contacts and thicker eyebrows, I think Prew could easily pass for Pace’s in-universe father. In the Second Age, Oropher’s reign was chiefly marked by his hostility towards the Noldorin Elves, and his eventual refusal to follow the orders of King Gil-galad during the War of the Last Alliance, ultimately leading to Oropher’s unnecessary death and the slaughter of a large part of his army. Thranduil was left in control of the remaining forces, but also homeless: because the seat of Oropher’s kingdom in Amon Lanc was taken over by evil creatures during the king’s absence. That’s how Thranduil ended up in the far north of Mirkwood, and it’s also how Amon Lanc turned into Dol Guldur, the hiding-place of the Necromancer in The Hobbit. I imagine that this sort of juicy backstory is exactly the sort of thing Amazon will include, and could potentially foreshadow by having Oropher appear throughout this first season of The Lord Of The Rings (or whatever it ends up being titled), along with a younger Thranduil. Even if Prew’s not playing him, I suspect both these characters will still show up in some capacity.

The Lord Of The Rings
Augustus Prew (right) | stage13.com

As for Prew himself, I don’t know a great deal about him, except that he’s the first openly LGBTQ+ actor to join The Lord Of The Rings cast (as far as I know), and he has had notable roles in films like Charlie St. Cloud, The Secret Of Moonacre, and Almost Love (which, by a bizarre coincidence, I just recently watched for the first time on Netflix: Prew was very good in it), and TV series’ like The Borgias, Prison Break, and The Morning Show. Just based on the little exposure I’ve had to his work, I’m very excited to see what he brings to The Lord Of The Rings – if he has indeed joined its ensemble cast.

So what do you think? Will Augustus Prew be in Amazon Prime’s series, and if so, who will he be playing? Share your own thoughts, theories, and opinions, in the comments below!

10 Things Amazon’s “Lord Of The Rings” Should Include That Will Shock The Fandom

It’s been a while since we’ve talked about my favorite topic, The Lord Of The Rings and all things Tolkien (it really hasn’t, since I somehow manage to bring it up in most completely unrelated posts, but that’s beside the point), or since I’ve written a “top ten” list like the ones I did sometime back in March, where I discussed things I wanted to see in Amazon Prime’s upcoming adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s writings on the Second Age of Middle-earth, as well as things I didn’t want to see, and characters I hope the series will handle with the utmost care. In the meantime, the Tolkien fandom has found other things to argue about – most recently the topic of sexuality in the Professor’s works, something I will address later in this post, and which was in fact the inspiration for this post. After seeing how shocked and outraged a portion of the Tolkien fandom was in response to the news that nudity and sexuality might be present in the Amazon Prime series, I asked myself: what other things might similarly shock them, if it’s mature content they’re opposed to? Things straight from the Tolkien canon, things that the Professor himself sketched out in detail or tantalizingly hinted at, and which will now have the opportunity to be realized onscreen?

Of course, this list will only be dealing with shocking events and themes of the Second Age of Middle-earth, which is when the Amazon Prime series will be set (no, it’s not really The Lord Of The Rings, and I still don’t understand why they haven’t given us some indication of what the actual title will be). The Second Age just so happens to be the second darkest era in Middle-earth’s history (the First being, both figuratively and, until the creation of the sun and moon quite literally, the darkest), which means there’s a great deal of strange, terrifying, controversial or just uncomfortable things for Amazon to draw from for their adaptation. And now, without further ado, let’s get into it.

The Lord Of The Rings
Blue Wizards | reddit.com

10: Different Magic. Let’s ease into this and start out fairly tame, with something that Amazon doesn’t necessarily have to include, but definitely should if they can find a way to do so naturally without alienating a massive part of the Tolkien fandom. In Tolkien’s assorted early writings on the Blue Wizards of Middle-earth, he briefly mentioned something that has always fascinated me and has always intrigued me because of how it seemingly challenges the loose rules of his soft magic system. “I fear that they failed…,” he wrote of the two Wizards, “and I suspect they were founders or beginners of secret cults and ‘magic’ traditions that outlasted the fall of Sauron.” Tolkien would later rewrite the story and have the Blue Wizards play an active, heroic role in bringing about Sauron’s downfall secretly from the east, but the idea of the duo spreading the knowledge or understanding of magic throughout Middle-earth is almost too irresistible to pass up on – even if Tolkien put magic in quotes, and clearly didn’t intend for it to mean real magical power like that possessed by Gandalf or the Elves. We’ve never seen magic used quite to this extent before in Middle-earth, certainly not with regards to cults or occult practices. And considering how Tolkien’s magic system is often used as the gold standard for soft magic systems in fantasy, it could be risky to explore this in too much detail – though it could be rewarding because it would give the show a chance to explore uncharted territory.

The Lord Of The Rings
Manwe of the Valar | tor.com

9: The Valar. As with occult magic, this has the potential to be both a good idea and a bad idea, depending on who you ask. Most hardcore fans know and love the Valar, but more casual fans might be weirded out by the reveal that Tolkien’s world comes with an entire pantheon of gods, goddesses and other minor deities – like the sun, and the moon…and Gandalf. In the semi-biblical narrative of The Silmarillion, the presence of the Valar feels very natural and I would argue it’s no different with the Second Age – but I’m just one person, and I have previously seen some quiet backlash to the idea of the Valar ever physically appearing. Some simply feel like it’s too radical a departure from the Middle-earth that most people know from The Lord Of The Rings, while others specifically don’t like The Silmarillion because of the gods and goddesses and other somewhat religious elements of the story. Amazon will have to include the Valar either way, because they’re critical to the story, but I’m interested to see what the reaction will be from the fandom. Personally I’d be thrilled.

The Lord Of The Rings
Entwife | scifi.stackexchange.com

8: The Burning Of The Entwife Gardens. Let’s get a little more specific now. In the cinematic Middle-earth franchise thus far, the most explicit act of desolation we’ve seen has been a single vision of a ruined Shire in the Mirror of Galadriel, and the wreck of Dale by dragon-fire in The Hobbit. But we’ve never seen anything on the scale of the torching of the Entwife gardens near the end of the Second Age. The Entwives cultivated a tranquil land east of the River Anduin, which unfortunately fell directly on Sauron’s warpath as his armies returned from defeat in Eriador to Mordor. In an attempt to deplete the approaching Last Alliance’s resources, he torched the Entwife gardens, and the Entwives themselves disappeared from recorded history. Were they burned? Enslaved and put to work in Mordor (in which case, that will be even more disturbing content to watch out for)? Or did they escape to happier lands? Whatever their fate may have been, watching their gardens be uprooted and scorched will be shockingly brutal enough. Not unpredictable, but definitely the stuff that season finale cliffhangers are made of.

The Lord Of The Rings
Sauron | indiewire.com

7: Celebrimbor, Gil-galad And Anarion’s Deaths. The Second Age is filled with a lot of very violent deaths. Nobody knows this better than Celebrimbor of Eregion, the Elven smith who forged most of the Rings of Power and was later betrayed by his partner and confidante, Annatar – who turned out to have been Sauron in disguise all along. Sauron and his orc armies attacked Eregion with the hope of locating the Three Rings that Celebrimbor had made for the Elves: they pillaged the city without any luck, and eventually Sauron captured Celebrimbor and tortured him mercilessly for information. Celebrimbor refused to relent, and so, of course, he was killed. But Sauron wasn’t content with just murdering one of the last of the Fëanorian bloodline. No, he also horribly mutilated the Elf, shot him full of arrows, and had his body hung from a flagpole and carried into battle like a banner by his orc army. That’s straight out of Game Of Thrones right there, and is almost certain to land the show a TV-MA rating no matter what. As for Gil-galad, last High King of the Noldor, he was apparently burned alive by the fiery heat of Sauron’s hand during their duel on the slopes of Mount Doom. And Anarion…well, he got his whole head bashed in by a rock thrown from the parapets of Barad-dûr, killing him and crushing the crown of Gondor. I don’t know which of these three fates was the worst, but all will certainly be graphic and stomach-churning onscreen.

The Lord Of The Rings
Numenor | lotr.fandom.com

6: Death And Mortality. Speaking of death, it’s actually one of the major recurring themes throughout the Second Age – and when the series begins to tackle the subject of Númenor and their relationship with death and mortality, that’s when it’s going to abruptly steer away from the realm of fantasy and into disturbing, cynical, psychological horror. For many fans of The Lord Of The Rings, it might come as a shock to realize that Tolkien’s world isn’t always escapist entertainment, but can be horrifyingly realistic when it needs to be. It’s in Númenor where this will surely be most apparent, as the island kingdom’s long-lived people slowly begin to lose their famous longevity and wither away: in desperation, they cling to life but fall into madness, chaos and a frantic search for a cure to death, or an antidote to their fear – which some of them find in Sauron’s evil, or in the nihilistic worship of the dead. They turn away from the wisdom of the Valar and the Elves, and descend into an abyss of their own making (and ultimately into the very real abyss beneath their island. Too soon?). It’s really grim.

The Lord Of The Rings
Numenorean Army | lotr.fandom.com

5: Commentary On Imperialism. Tolkien was no fan of the British Empire’s global expansion, and his works reflect that: much of the trouble in Númenor first begins to emerge after the island kingdom starts occupying lands in Middle-earth across the sea, starting wars with the native peoples there and bringing back riches to fuel and fund ever more conquests. For our own sake, I hope that any violence against the native peoples of Middle-earth will be shown as it is – an unjust brutality – and not glorified or normalized. Some will complain that it’s politicizing Tolkien’s work or “pushing an agenda”, but they will be purposefully ignoring the fact that Tolkien’s work is already very political and itself pushes a very anti-imperialist agenda. The Númenóreans are also responsible for deforesting almost the entirety of Middle-earth’s western shore from the Elven kingdom in Lindon all the way to Harad at least, but probably even further. Remember in The Lord Of The Rings, when Treebeard the Ent laments the vast forests that once covered the earth? Yeah, Númenóreans tore them all down and used the wood to build ships. If you’re not shocked by that, you probably should be.

The Lord Of The Rings
Sauron | editorial.rottentomatoes.com

4: Human Sacrifice. Just a little bit more graphic violence, don’t worry. When the Dark Lord Sauron arrived in Númenor and began playing on the growing fears and prejudices of the Númenórean people to increase his own power, he also had a plan to try and make Middle-earth great again – a plan which involved sacrificing political prisoners to the memory of his former master and mentor, the fallen angel Morgoth. So he built a truly massive domed temple in Númenor and used it to perform these sacrifices: we don’t know exactly how, but we know the bodies were disposed of with fire, because smoke rose from the temple so often that the dome was stained black by soot. The first victim to the flames was the original White Tree, which had stood in the King’s Court for years and was a symbol of the friendship between Elves and Men. Sadly, many Númenóreans fell for Sauron’s lies and gladly gave up their friends and families to the Dark Lord’s altar.

The Lord Of The Rings
Numenor | legendarium.co.uk

3: Ar-Pharazôn. If you’re wondering who allowed all this to happen, well, you should probably blame Ar-Pharazôn, the last King of Númenor and the guy who decided it was a good idea to bring Sauron into the very heart of his empire. He makes this list not only because he was a corrupt leader who allowed Sauron to slaughter his own people, declared war on the Valar, and doomed his entire nation to a watery fate, but because of what he did in his personal life. You know, the whole bit where he usurped his kingdom’s throne by forcing his first cousin, Míriel, to marry him against her will – thus stealing the rule of Númenor from her, the rightful heir. It’s probably one of the greatest tragedies in Middle-earth’s history: that a capable woman could have been so close to averting all the horrors that would befall her kingdom, but because of an unqualified man was forced to the sidelines, where she could only watch and wait for the inevitable. Her last act was to try and plead with the Valar to show mercy on her people, but she died in the cataclysm like all the rest. You might be noticing a pattern at this point, and yes, the Second Age really is this hopeless and horrible.

The Lord Of The Rings
Eowyn | tor.com

2: Commentary On Gender. Since we’re now on the topic, I feel like we have to talk about this (though I’m well aware that a certain subsection of the Tolkien fandom would rather not). Truth is, you can’t read the tale of The Mariner’s Wife, the most complete extant writing by Tolkien on the Second Age, and not see how it’s a story about gender. I mean, it’s not even subtext. Erendis, the story’s protagonist, literally has an extended, passionate monologue about male privilege and how men will do anything in their power to undermine women, even the great women of history – whose heroic deeds they diminish and leave out of their legends. No matter how much it may cause some people to squirm and start muttering under their breath about “social justice warriors”, I want this entire speech recited onscreen. It’s among the most important and exceptional things Tolkien ever wrote, and it’s true, both in-universe and in real-life. But Amazon shouldn’t stop there: considering what we’ve just discussed about how Númenor’s downfall might have been averted by a woman, I think they could find further opportunities to comment on the empire’s oppressive, patriarchal system.

The Lord Of The Rings
Beren and Luthien | bbc.com

1: Sexuality. At last we come to it: the great battle of our time. Is sex and sexuality wholly foreign to Tolkien, or is it instead woven subtly and cleverly throughout his work, a thematic goldmine waiting to be properly explored? Both answers are nearly right, in my opinion, but the latter more so. Tolkien’s depictions of sexuality aren’t gratuitous, something I feel the series should reflect, but they’re there: prominently, in the First and Second Ages. For examples, read The Mariner’s Wife (no, but like, seriously, read The Mariner’s Wife: it’s amazing), and you will find that the whole story is bristling with sexual energy. Erendis and her husband have an epic back-and-forth about how he leaves her bed cold, to which he replies that he thought she preferred it that way. Tar-Ancalimë accidentally interrupts a mass wedding and then has to stay the night, listening in embarrassment to the sounds of “merrymaking” all around her as the bridal-chambers are occupied one-by-one. Amazon is going to have to expand on all of this because they’re creating something in a visual medium, but it’s also just common sense to be more explicit rather than less so because it helps to make the existing commentary on gender and sexuality more explicit as well, lending thematic depth to the entire story of Númenor. And for those worried about “the children”…well, I’m honestly not sure you can make a series about the Second Age child-friendly without actually rewriting the entire thing anyway.

So there you have it. Ten examples of things that are either going to shock the Tolkien fandom, or already have (though, to be quite blunt, it seems to be mostly the thought of nudity that has people all riled up: because apparently graphic violence and human sacrifice is fine, but some bare skin is where our fandom draws the line?) It should go without saying that I love the Tolkien fandom, and this isn’t meant as an attack on anyone in particular. So what did you think of my list? Feel free to share your own thoughts, theories and opinions in the comments below – and if you have any more shocking things to add to the list, say so!

“Onward” Trailer Review!

Unfortunately, this trailer dropped late at night, so I was unable to review it then – but we’re here now, aren’t we? Honestly, I have no idea who at Pixar and Disney thought it was a good idea to release the first teaser trailer for an animated kid’s movie at night, it’s not like this is going to be Maleficent or something, but whatever.

Let’s take a look, shall we?

Right off the bat, the animation looks pretty good, as we soar over a mystical land of magic and wonder, populated by flying unicorns and mermaids. Then, in a charming shot, we see a jet-plane interrupt the tranquility of this strange place. After that initial moment of wonder, the trailer goes rapidly downhill as we enter the magical suburbs where our protagonists live.

Don’t get me wrong, none of that has to do with voice actors Tom Holland and Chris Pratt. Holland sounds essentially like…well, like Holland, which works for his character; a shy, scrawny, teenage elf named Ian Lightfoot, who is clearly modeled off the actor’s more notable role as Spider-man, presumably in an attempt to attract Holland’s mobs of overzealous fans (though his fans would ravenously devour him in any role, to be honest). Pratt’s character, Barley Lightfoot (seriously, that’s his name), the brother of our teenage elf protagonist, is some sort of grungy adventurer who drives around in a unicorn-emblazoned van, talking loudly and using archaic words – like an entire movie of Pratt’s Marvel character Star-Lord copying Thor’s voice, from that iconic scene in Avengers: Infinity War. The two elf brothers are apparently on a quest (which Holland’s elf denies is a quest) to find the last remaining real magic in their world, somewhere outside of their town of…New Mushroomton (as if the names in this movie didn’t already sound rather trippy, New Mushroomton is all the evidence you need to prove that someone working on this film is smoking something).

And it’s New Mushroomton that’s the problem, as one might expect. Yes, the whole premise of the movie is that magic is now commonplace: we see mermaids checking their texts while lounging in the pool, centaurs jogging, unicorns raiding garbage cans like really sparkly raccoons. That’s fine, but the animation doesn’t illustrate this concept with charm or the usual Pixar wit – the New Mushroomton suburbs look rather boring, and what could be some really juxtapositions of the magic and the mundane…look pretty unimaginative. For instance, Ian Lightfoot’s pet being a dragon that acts like a dog – that is the easiest possible choice, and it’s been done before! Why not have the dragon be a cat? – or, better yet, have the Lightfoots’ pet be something interesting, like a giant spider or a phoenix, or something.

I mean, yeah, it’s just a brief teaser trailer, but it does nothing to excite me in the way that a Pixar film usually would; so far, I’m not seeing the creativity I’m used to seeing from this studio.

Trailer Rating: 4.5/10

New Clip From “Tolkien”

This movie does seem to be getting more appealing to me – though this clip, which was released today by Empire, is somewhat conflicting. On the one hand, it has beautiful background music, which helps the dialogue immensely; the spoken words seem to flow around melodiously in a rhythm, the effect of which would almost be hypnotic if it weren’t for the fact that the interaction between J.R.R Tolkien and Edith Bratt here seemed so peculiarly awkward! I mean, yes, their interruptions and mumbling does lend to the interest of the scene, but it doesn’t seem to work entirely. Tolkien himself (played by Nicholas Hoult) seems a little self-absorbed – when Edith (Lily Collins) tells him she has thought of a name for a character in a story, he corrects her: “It’s not a name,” he says. “It’s something else.”

He’s referring to the fact that, in his invented language, the word Edith has created is a place-name. But the line delivery sounds too sharp, too abrupt.

Similarly, at the opening of the scene, the back-and-forth between the two seems less romantic than it does snippy. Edith pushes Tolkien to tell her a story, but can only persuade him when she gives him the choice of doing it “in any language”. Once things get moving and Tolkien starts showing off his incredible imagination, the whole scene gets much better, but the dialogue between the two feels like it could have been toned down just a little. Tolkien is currently coming off somewhat impolite – not entirely rude, but very secluded and private. Edith is much more relatable: she’s clearly fascinated by Tolkien’s intellect and her eyes are wide with wonder as Tolkien explains that the name she created (which,  by the way, is just the words “cellar door”) properly belongs to an ancient place, almost impossible to reach, but held in reverence by those who find it. “Oh, is it now?,” Edith says: proving she, too, seems to have a tendency to cut in at just the wrong moment.

Tolkien, however, is by now lost in his imagination: he talks about the shrine at the heart of this magical place, and how it is marked by – and there he pauses suddenly, and the music gently trembles around him. This is the best moment in the clip. Tolkien is on the brink of saying that this place was marked by the Elves, the legendary people who inhabit much of his invented world. But he stops, staring dreamily into space, and says – “by trees.”

In a way, the idea that the trees were responsible for this place’s magic would not be alien to Tolkien – he revered trees, and would often stop to stare at them for very long times when he was out walking. Some of his most notable characters are the Ents, the tree-shaped forest dwellers who rise up against industrialism in The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Magical trees populate Middle-earth, from the enchanting mellyrn of Lórien to the Forest of Nightshade in Beleriand. So for a moment I was actually caught off guard by this line, and didn’t realize that it was meant to be a substitute for Elves. When I did realize, and re-watched the whole scene, the magic is indeed much more noticeable – but the interactions between Edith and John might have needed just a little more work.

All in all, the scene is quite good: the focus on Tolkien’s linguistic and philological skills is delightful. The use of the phrase “cellar door” to drive the scene is wonderful: Tolkien once said that the word “cellar door” was one of the most beautiful in the English language. The music is just perfect (honestly, the music is so good: very Elven). And the acting from Hoult and Collins is, for the most part, really good – I just think certain lines could have been edited slightly for an even better effect. I would be lying, though, if I said that this brief clip didn’t make me more excited than any Avengers: Endgame trailer. The truth is, I am wildly hyped for Tolkien, and I’m giving it all the benefit of the doubt for now.

Trailer Rating: 7.9/10

“The Lord Of The Rings: The Return Of The King” Throwback

Today is Tolkien Reading Day, the best time of year to go out and read up on the works of the great J.R.R Tolkien, author of The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit. However, if you don’t have access to the books, why not take three hours out of your day to watch one of The Lord of the Rings movies? And since this day is intrinsically linked to things that happened in The Return of the King, Part 3 of The Lord of the Rings trilogy, we’re going to be talking about that film.

Spoilers Ahead!

So let’s start our discussion with a reminder that I am one of those people who read the books first, before seeing the films – but, I am not a book “purist”, someone who believes that everything in the text could have been adapted word-for-word onto the big screen, without any need for changes, additions, omissions, etc.

Now, having watched the film about six-thousand times, I have noticed a number of flaws – little things, for the most part, but we’ll discuss them here: I say “we” because I’m going to be writing this post in Gollum/Sméagol fashion, as an argument between my purist self and my revisionist self. We’ll also discuss a number of scenes that capture perfectly the spirit of the book, and even manage to almost elevate the material (which is so good to begin with).

But, we’ll also talk about the movie in its own right, because it’s just such a good movie. Even if you go into these films never having heard of The Lord of the Rings, or J.R.R Tolkien, you’ll still be swept up into this magical world, and, assuming you’re anything like me, you’ll never leave it again as long as you live. The joy and wonder is still there, every time I open the book or watch one of the movies.

Well, now we’re off at last!

Let’s begin with a breakdown of the plot: the film follows the journeys of a group of Men, Elves, Dwarves and Hobbits as they travel across Middle-earth. Our hobbit protagonist, Frodo Baggins (Elijah Wood), carries with him the deadly but beautiful One Ring, an object of incredible power that contains the very soul of the Dark Lord Sauron. Only by destroying this Ring can Middle-earth be freed from the horrors of war and evil that have been relentlessly assaulting it. The film opens with Frodo and his loyal gardener Sam Gamgee (Sean Astin) being led through the dangerous country around the Dark Lord’s realm of Mordor. Their guide? A treacherous and utterly wretched creature named Gollum (Andy Serkis), who once possessed the One Ring and wants it back. Can he be trusted? Can Frodo be trusted? Can anyone be trusted around the Ring? – for the Ring wants to get back to Sauron, and it has the power to corrupt anyone who owns it. By the time we see Frodo here, in The Return of the King, the Ring has betrayed many masters: it was cut from Sauron’s hand long ago but quickly killed its new owner, a man named Isildur – it fell into the River Anduin, and was there picked up by a hobbit named Deagol, who was very soon murdered by his friend Sméagol. Sméagol took the Ring and fled with it into the mountains, and there, dwelling in dark caves and pits, he changed into Gollum – the Ring abandoned him too, though, and was found by another hobbit named Bilbo Baggins (Ian Holm), but Bilbo was good enough that he was able to give up the Ring willingly – he gave it to Frodo. But the Ring betrayed one of Frodo’s friends as well, the noble man Boromir (Sean Bean), who tried to kill Frodo in an attempt to steal the Ring.

That is, of course, the main plot: the Ring must be destroyed, but destroying it takes great effort and great willpower. And the only place it can be unmade is in the fiery forges beneath an active volcano named Mount Doom, in the very heart of the realm of Mordor. Sauron dwells here, a giant flaming eye atop a horned tower.

Purist’s Note: in the books, Sauron is not a “giant flaming eye”. He has a physical form, but it is terrible and maimed, because he has been unable to take any shape fair to the eyes of Men ever since he fell into the ruin of Numenor in the Second Age. The Eye is merely a metaphor, in the books, for his piercing knowledge of all things that move on Middle-earth.

Thank you, Inner Purist, for making that clear.

Moving on. Many miles away from Frodo, his other friends are busy fighting Sauron’s vast armies of Orcs, Ringwraiths and Haradrim. Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen) is the reluctant King of Gondor who must rally his people to stand in defiance of the shadow. Gandalf the White (Sir Ian McKellen) is the good wizard entrusted with helping all the Free Folk of Middle-earth. Arwen Evenstar (Liv Tyler) is the Elven princess in love with Aragorn, who must choose between an immortal existence with her family, or a mortal life with the man she loves.

But, the fight for victory will not be easy. Sauron has unleashed all of his forces, and they are heading straight for the greatest city in Middle-earth: Minas Tirith, the capital of Gondor. Will Gandalf be able to keep the city’s defenses firm against such reckless hate? Will Aragorn reach the city in time to save it? Will Arwen choose love over the promise of immortality? The stakes are so high, they’re incredible.

Purist’s Note: in the books, Arwen had already chosen love over immortality, many years before the events of The Lord of the Rings. She and Aragorn had been betrothed on the hill of Cerin Amroth, and they had rejected both the Shadow of Sauron and the Twilight of the West.

Yeah, well, that’s not the case here. Here, we have a cast of incredible characters – played by an extraordinary cast – who collide with each other in the most brilliant ways. When the hobbit Merry Brandybuck (Dominic Monaghan) meets Éowyn, shieldmaiden of Rohan (Miranda Otto), will they overcome prejudice to fight in the war for Middle-earth? When Pippin Took (Billy Boyd) swears loyalty to the Steward Denethor (John Noble) will this choice come with a terrible responsibility – to watch as the Steward goes mad and tries to burn his own son alive?

Purist’s Note: well, no, apparently not, because in the movies Denethor releases Pippin from his service – whereas, in the books, Pippin remains in allegiance to Gondor.

This purist is getting on my nerves. You know what, Inner Purist, how about that scene where the Riders of Rohan appear over the hills at dawn and ride down to meet the orcs of Mordor in battle on the Pelennor Fields? Hmm, how about that? Was that not exactly as in the books?

Purist’s Note: well…well, I mean, no, because…

And what about the scene where Gandalf and Pippin discuss the prospect of death, using words directly from the book?

Purist’s Note: okay, that was touching, but the scene itself wasn’t in the books…

How about the scene on Mount Doom? Where Frodo finally stands above the consuming fires, unable to throw the Ring to its destruction? How about when Gollum takes the Ring from him in their last desperate struggle, biting off Frodo’s finger to get the corrupting treasure, dancing madly for joy on the brink of the fire – and falling, to his death? How about that terrifying scene where the Ring sits, motionless, on the surface of the lava, unwilling to be destroyed? And Frodo hangs from the cliff far above, staring down at it, contemplating with himself in those final moments whether he should leap into the fires after the Ring, or if he should take Sam’s hand and be carried to safety? How about that scene?

Purist’s Note: ooh, and how about that tortured look that Frodo gives to Sam as he makes his choice – but then, he reaches for Sam’s hand! And Sam pulls him up! And…uh, I mean, yeah, that scene is fine.

What about the final scene, at the Grey Havens, where Frodo goes off with the Elves to sail across the seas into the West? That emotional goodbye to his friends that has me in tears every time I watch it? That smile he gives as he boards the boat, and you know in your heart that he’s finally going to be healed of all his pain and hurt.

Purist’s Note: and when Sam says “well, I’m back” as he returns to his home, just like in the book…

Well, not just like in the book. If it had been just like in the book, he would have gone home to Bag-end, since in the book he inherited it from Frodo. Also, he should have only had one child at that time, but he had, like, five.

Purist’s Note: well, yeah, but, come on, the emotional heart of Tolkien’s work was all there. Director Peter Jackson could easily have gone for a more traditional route and had them all live happily ever after, but he didn’t. He showed the incredible pain that Frodo went through, and how it could never be healed – unless he left Middle-earth.

Yeah, I know, but Peter Jackson got a lot of things incorrect too. Let’s not forget the infamous scene where Frodo tells Sam to “go home”, which goes against everything in the books. That scene is painful to watch, it’s just so annoying.

Purist’s Note: okay, sure, but don’t forget that that scene was shot really early on, before the actors had any clear idea of the emotional journeys their characters were going on – before Andy Serkis had been cast as Gollum, in fact.

Good point. But how do you explain that scene with the skull avalanche in the Paths of the Dead?

Purist’s Note: wait, I thought you liked that!

I do! But…wait, aren’t you the purist? I feel like things got switched around here. I’m not supposed to be grilling you, it should be the other way round!

Purist’s Note: well, this is pretty normal when dealing with the movies. They’re conflicting, but in the end…they are pretty good movies, even when they’re not great adaptations. And, for the most part, they are great adaptations. Except for…a handful of things.

More than a handful. But, you’re right. No matter how many things might be wrong with the movies, I’m always going to love them. I’m always going to cry when Frodo sets sail into the West, or when Annie Lennox’s beautiful song starts playing over the credits…I’m always going to cheer when Sauron is cast down, and the Eagles rescue Frodo and Sam. I’m always going to feel completely heartbroken after the credits roll, when I realize that the story has finally come to its end. It’s the magic of this movie that makes that possible: you can overlook or even ignore every minor change to a character’s appearance, every faulty line of dialogue, every blunder or misstep. Because the magic is still there.

Purist’s Note: you’re going to tell me what the magic is now, aren’t you?

Yes, I am! It’s the magic of Frodo struggling through pain and torture to do the job that needs doing. It’s the magic of Sam carrying Frodo up Mount Doom, even when all seems lost. It’s the magic of Aragorn going to what seems like certain death so that he can buy Frodo just a little time. It’s the magic of Merry and Éowyn standing up against the Witch-King. It’s the magic of Pippin leaping into the flames to rescue Faramir. It’s the-

Purist’s Note: you’ve gone on long enough. I get it. It’s magic.

It is, and it’s the sort of magic that doesn’t go away, even after multiple viewings.

 

So there you have it: my thoughts on The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. No movie quite compares to it, honestly. It is everything I love about cinema, all rolled into one beautiful movie. From the opening sequence to the moment the screen fades to black, I am entranced, brought into another world, a world that I know and love from the books: not everything from those books made it onto the screen, but that’s okay. This sort of magic is rare. Enjoy it as it is.

Movie Rating: 10/10