In a new, minute-long, sneak peek at the second full-length trailer for Amazon’s The Lord Of The Rings: The Rings Of Power, everyone in Middle-earth is looking up to the skies in anticipation of something, be it an answer to their prayers or a reckoning for their misdeeds or divine punishment upon their enemies – but when a meteor actually streaks across the heavens, leaving a trail of blazing flame in its wake as it hurtles toward Wilderland (and straight into the midst of a peaceful nomadic community of Harfoots whose lives will be irrevocably altered by their encounter with the meteor), there’s no telling which of those it will be, or whether it’s something entirely different.
You might be wondering where in all of J.R.R. Tolkien’s writings does the author mention a meteor striking Middle-earth in the middle of the Second Age, and to that there really is no good answer. Off the top of my head, there’s one reference in The Silmarillion to the swords Anglachel and Anguirel being “made of iron that fell from heaven as a blazing star”, i.e. a meteorite, but one that fell during the First Age, and then there’s the mysterious Stone of Erech in Númenor (later transported by ship to Gondor) which “some believed…had fallen from the sky”. But everything we know about The Rings Of Power‘s “meteor” from leaks and previously released footage suggests that it’s a strange, disheveled man, and not a chunk of rock.
Middle-earth’s skies are conveniently crowded with minor deities and even a couple of stray Elves who could potentially take a tumble, but I feel like The Rings Of Power would be backing itself a corner by trying to insert guest appearances from the likes of, say, Eärendil the Mariner or even Tirion, god of the moon, into a story where neither of these characters had any relevance to begin with, because if they did it would have been a pretty big deal…like a really big deal…like the kind of momentous event that would have warranted at least a footnote in Tolkien’s Appendices to The Lord Of The Rings, I think (although I suppose I ought to note that the Hobbits of the Third Age did have a legend about the “Man in the Moon” coming down to earth one night to get wasted, so, uh, make of that what you will).
The prevailing theory among fans, of course, is that the “Meteor Man” is none other than Sauron, adopting a convincing disguise and putting on a show so he can slither back into Middle-earth after centuries of banishment in desolate lands – but I get the sense that Amazon only wants us to think that, to draw attention away from the other original characters in the sprawling ensemble cast who are just as likely to be Sauron (personally, I’m sticking by this theory, posed a few months back on Reddit by u/TheManFromFarAway, that the Meteor Man is Old Man Willow – specifically, the malicious spirit that will end up trapped in a willow-tree in the Old Forest and eventually become known as Old Man Willow).
What I really like about that theory is that Old Man Willow is only relevant to the Hobbits, so he could stay with the Hobbits (sorry, the Harfoots) for the course of the entire show and it wouldn’t break canon because Old Man Willow is a pretty minor character in the grand scheme of things. Him just being there wouldn’t necessarily cause any glaring plot-holes; at least none that come to mind. But regardless, everyone in Middle-earth saw something fall from the sky – and I’m assuming that while they’ll each have their own interpretation of what it means, it will be widely read as a sign of approaching upheaval, calamity, and changes both great and terrible. They wouldn’t be wrong to think that.
Most of the teaser is just a montage of several noteworthy characters looking up at the sky, stitched together to make it seem as if they’re all watching the meteor fall at the same moment – a few of them clearly are, but some, like Númenor’s Queen Tar-Míriel, the Dwarven prince Durin IV, and the Lady Galadriel, are just as obviously glancing upwards at other things, or at nothing in particular. When the meteor falls, presumably near the very end of episode one just before the cut to credits (I can already envision how it will play out in my head), I assume Galadriel will still be in Lindon, the realm of King Gil-galad. My guess is that in episode two, alarmed by the meteor, Gil-galad sends Galadriel and a crew of seafaring Elves west to Valinor to try and seek answers from the Valar regarding the meteor’s origins.
That, I think, is what we see in this teaser – Galadriel standing on the deck of a small ship carved in the shape of a swan, much like the one she and Elrond sailed into the Uttermost West at the end of the Third Age, with white seabirds spiraling around the mast. I’m also going to hazard a guess that this is the same ship we know for a fact gets wrecked during a storm at some point in the first two or three episodes, resulting in the tragic loss of the entire crew save for Galadriel and a human named Halbrand (whom I now believe is a stowaway trying to sneak into Valinor, which makes a lot of sense given what we know about his character). Of course, mortal men like Halbrand are strictly forbidden from setting foot in Valinor, which is probably the reason for the sudden storm and the failure of Galadriel’s mission.
The leaks, which mostly come from Fellowship Of Fans on YouTube (check out his channel if you haven’t already), indicate that no later than episode three, Galadriel and Halbrand wash up on the shores of Númenor, an island kingdom in the middle of the ocean separating Middle-earth and Valinor, inhabited by humans of unusually tall stature and great strength. Their queen, at the time this story opens, is Tar-Míriel – and yes, canonically, her cousin Ar-Pharazôn usurped the throne before she could ever take up the crown and scepter of Númenor, but The Rings Of Power is playing around with the timeline and giving her a bit more time to rule before that happens, which is actually…not a terrible idea? Hopefully, it allows us to feel the tragedy all the more deeply because by that point we’ll actually understand for ourselves why Tar-Míriel could have been a great leader, instead of having to take Tolkien’s word for it as is the case in the text.
Circling back around to Lindon (only because we know quite a lot about the Numenorean subplot in The Rings Of Power season one, and I’m afraid I’ll give too much away if I keep rambling on), it seems that Gil-galad wants to cover all of his bases and so puts his young herald Elrond in charge of an expedition eastward, perhaps to try and find the crash-site. We know that Elrond will end up in Khazad-dum as a guest of Durin IV and Disa, and he probably spends some time in Eregion with Celebrimbor as well (I can’t explain it, but I have this sneaking suspicion Celebrimbor will try to manipulate Elrond into working for him by reminding him of the debt Elrond owes to Celebrimbor’s family for saving his life as a child – long story, read The Silmarillion), but I haven’t heard any rumors regarding what happens to Elrond after that, whether he returns to Lindon or ventures further into the east of Middle-earth in search of the Meteor Man.
Meanwhile, far southeast of Lindon in a verdant region of Middle-earth soon to be burned unrecognizable by the coming of Sauron, a Silvan Elf named Arondir and village apothecary named Bronwyn – both original characters created for The Rings Of Power – grab for each other’s hand as they watch the meteor descend from the skies, dangerously close to where they’re standing. I’ve previously speculated that the village of Tirharad, where Bronwyn lives, and the ruins of the Elven settlement it’s built on, which used to belong to Arondir’s people, all exist on land that will one day become known as Mordor; around the same time that Bronwyn and Arondir, following in the footsteps of other star-crossed lovers before them, will probably die defending their homes from Sauron’s legions of orcs (that’s purely speculation on my part, not a spoiler, but come on…these two aren’t making it out of the show alive).
The meteor finally zips over Fangorn Forest before crashing in Wilderland, startling a couple of Ents who were just minding their own business – confirmation, if any was needed, that there will indeed be Ents in The Rings Of Power, although I’d recommend keeping your expectations fairly low if you’re going into season one hoping the Ents play a major role…or really, any role except as bystanders…in the narrative. Entwives, on the other hand, might have a little something to do if we ever get to visit their gardens in the south of Wilderland, but I’d be extremely surprised (delighted, mind you, but still surprised) if we got the chance in season one.
By an extraordinary coincidence, the kind that would make even Gandalf take notice, the meteor lands just a mile or two away from a group of Harfoots camping in the woods, and is there discovered by the most unlikely person imaginable: Elanor “Nori” Brandyfoot! We’ve talked at length about the identity of Meteor Man already, so there’s no need to rehash any of that, but Elanor is potentially even more interesting because she’s a hobbit, and Amazon is likely to do something important with her character. There’s one itty-bitty little problem, which is that neither she nor any of the Harfoots can do anything too important without breaking canon, or if they do, it must be done in secret and without anyone – specifically Sauron – ever finding out about it.
The reason for this is that Gandalf tells Frodo Baggins in The Lord Of The Rings that, until Sauron first heard the name of Baggins and The Shire from Gollum, the Dark Lord had “entirely overlooked the existence of hobbits”, or so Gandalf believed. One could argue that Gandalf was wrong, and, well, it wouldn’t be the first time, nor would it be entirely implausible in this case – Gandalf wasn’t actually around during the Second Age, having not yet taken a physical form, so he might not have been aware of everything that Sauron knew – and of course, if Sauron knew of hobbits but was mistakenly led to believe that he had killed all of the hobbits for whatever reason, that could work too, but all of these excuses kinda miss the point, which is that Sauron needs to have overlooked hobbits for a very simple thematic reason.
Sauron, gnawed incessantly by his envy of the gods and all of their creations in Middle-earth, seems to have always been hyper-aware of anything he perceived as greater than himself – people, places, inanimate objects – and if he couldn’t improve upon a thing further, as he did with the Rings of Power for probably the last time in his life, then he sought only to destroy it. Anything undeserving of his envy was undeserving of his rage or his attention in general, and that’s exactly why he lost the War of the Ring, because even after learning that a hobbit was in possession of the One Ring and was heading towards Mount Doom with the intention to destroy it, he was still convinced that Aragorn and the Elves were his real enemies, and that something as insignificant as a hobbit wasn’t worth guarding against.
So the only way I’ll accept Sauron learning about the existence of hobbits in The Rings Of Power, potentially even interacting with hobbits if he truly is the Meteor Man, is if we see how this delusion came about, with him immediately abandoning the hobbits once he realizes that he can’t use them to his own gain, even after all that Elanor and the community did for him. It would perhaps be poetic if a hobbit saved his life, seeing as a hobbit also took it away – both times without Sauron ever even registering it.
But now I want to know what you think about Meteor Man, who you think he is and when we’ll find out his true identity – will it be in season one of The Rings Of Power, or will we have to wait even longer? Could all of our questions be answered when the full-length trailer drops on July 14th? Share your own thoughts, theories, and opinions, in the comments below!
When Miranda Otto scored the coveted and contested role of Éowyn in The Lord Of The Rings: The Two Towers back in 1999, she probably didn’t anticipate that twenty-three years later she’d be asked to reprise the role once more – and that this time around, Éowyn wouldn’t just be a supporting character in someone else’s story, but the star and selling-point of a completely new story set in Middle-earth hundreds of years before the events depicted in The Lord Of The Rings.
For better or worse, we live in a wild world where both Warner Brothers and Amazon Prime have the ability to tell new stories set in Middle-earth (the rest of us will have to wait until sometime around 2050), but as long as they continue to use this power responsibly by fleshing out the stories of Middle-earth’s ancient history found in the Appendices to The Lord Of The Rings, you won’t see me complaining. And that is exactly what Warner Brothers is aiming to achieve with their upcoming feature-length anime film, War Of The Rohirrim, which has just today enlisted Miranda Otto to narrate the epic tale of one of Éowyn’s ancestors, King Helm Hammerhand.
Helm (who will be voiced by Succession‘s Brian Cox in the anime), lived about two-hundred and fifty to three-hundred years before Éowyn, roughly. He was the ninth King of Rohan, and of all the Kings after Eorl the Young by far the most belligerent. In the eighteen years he reigned, he managed to alarm or offend most of his relations, ultimately incurring an invasion of Rohan in the year 2758 that inconveniently coincided with a blight and a resulting famine brought about by the Long Winter, the effects of which were felt all across Middle-earth. Rohan’s enemies took control of the city of Edoras and the golden hall of Meduseld, while Helm and the Rohirrim were forced to retreat to the fortress of the Hornburg in the White Mountains, where they endured a terrible siege for at least five months, probably six or seven. Friends and foes alike froze to death in the heavy snow, people started eating each other to survive – it was not a happy time.
Both of Helm’s sons died in the war, one while defending the doors of Meduseld and the other during the Long Winter…but Helm also had a daughter, and we don’t know anything about her besides the fact that she existed and that four years prior to the invasion of Rohan she was the subject of a brawl between Helm and a local baron named Freca, who unwisely suggested marrying her off to Freca’s own son Wulf (voiced by Luke Pasqualino of Shadow And Bone), at which point Helm “smote Freca such a blow with his fist that he fell back stunned, and died soon after”, which in turn led Wulf to seek vengeance for his father’s death by joining forces with the Dunlendings and planning the assault on Edoras.
The Appendices to The Lord Of The Rings aren’t devoid of female characters entirely, but they’re filled with women like Helm’s daughter who aren’t so much characters as they are placeholders for characters – and even that is a generous description, when you take into consideration all the blank spaces on the family trees where there ought to be women’s names, the dates of their births and deaths, the details of their lives alongside those of their husbands, brothers, and sons (all of whose exploits Tolkien recorded in occasionally excessive detail). These women are implied to have existed…Tolkien just didn’t care enough about any of them to give us more information than that.
But this new generation of writers entrusted with adapting his work do care, or at the very least everything I’ve seen so far from both The Rings Of Power and War Of The Rohirrim gives me the impression that they care about expanding and diversifying the world of Middle-earth to include more women (and not just white women, either) and therefore create more opportunities for actresses in this franchise who might otherwise have a total of three or four roles to choose from. Helm’s daughter, now named Hera (and voiced by Gaia Wise of A Walk In The Woods), will apparently play a major role in War Of The Rohirrim as she leads a resistance movement opposed to Wulf.
Additionally, Bridgerton‘s Lorraine Ashbourne – the wife of Peter Jackson’s close friend and frequent collaborator Andy Serkis – has been cast in a supporting role in the film, although we don’t have any details regarding her character. Serkis may or may not have been involved in getting her the part, but regardless her casting forms another link between War Of The Rohirrim and Jackson’s Lord Of The Rings trilogy that now includes Miranda Otto, Jackson’s co-writer Philippa Boyens, and concept artists Alan Lee and John Howe, who probably won’t stray too far from the aesthetics they established for Rohan over twenty years ago that have remained iconic and beloved.
None of this is all that surprising, seeing as Warner Brothers has probably had the entire cast and crew of Jackson’s Lord Of The Rings trilogy on speed-dial for the last two decades waiting for just such an opportunity to present itself, but if nostalgia for Jackson’s trilogy is what both Warner Brothers and Amazon will be trying to elicit from audiences throughout their respective marketing campaigns for War Of The Rohirrim and Rings Of Power (and that certainly seems to be the case), then Warner Brothers will have the upper hand in that fight as long as they own the rights to the trilogy and can continue to use all the same imagery and all the same actors without needing to worry about accidentally benefiting their competitors.
Leaving all that aside, who else is just excited to hear Miranda Otto as Éowyn again? I know I am. Share your own thoughts, theories, and opinions, in the comments below!
Sorry, Kenobi, but my priorities have shifted – because Empire Magazine just dropped new Rings Of Power-themed covers for their July 2022 issue featuring interviews with the cast and crew of the show, word is that we might even be due for another trailer around the same time, and I am once again begging Amazon on my hands and knees to please, please, please just warn me before dropping new Rings Of Power content out of the blue. Like, I get that this was technically Empire Magazine’s doing, not Amazon’s, but it was the Twitter notification from The Lord Of The Rings on Prime that nearly gave me a heart-attack so it’s still their fault, as far as I’m concerned.
Three new magazine covers, one for each of the Free Peoples we’ll be following throughout The Rings Of Power season one – Elves, Dwarves, and Harfoots (proto-Hobbits). Humans didn’t get a separate cover, oddly. I guess “Humans” wouldn’t have made for a catchy title, “Men” would have provoked the kind of discourse that Amazon can’t afford, and “Númenóreans” was probably too obscure? Well, whatever the reason, still no sign of Isildur, Elendil, Ar-Pharazôn, Tar-Míriel, or any of the other human characters Tolkien actually wrote about on any of these covers.
That said, I can’t be too mad when we got Galadriel looking like this.
She’s got a point(y sword), she’s an icon, she is a legend, and she is the moment. I don’t have much to say about this cover, but what I will say is that Morfydd Clark has the stance of a warrior, and I cannot wait to see her action scenes. Her heavy suit of pseudo-Medieval plate armor, which looked a bit clunky in the first-look photos provided by Vanity Fair, has here been stripped back a little, leaving only the ornate vambraces, gauntlets (which have fake fingernails, by the way; so Medieval), and greaves – perhaps not the most practical choice in reality, but if I’m right, and the location depicted on this magazine cover is supposed to be the same cave in the Forodwaith where Galadriel and her Elves encountered a ghastly snow-troll in the teaser trailer, then she probably removed some layers so she can run, jump, and climb in the mountainous environment.
I also want to draw attention to the chainmail tunic Galadriel is wearing here. It’s the same one we saw her wearing in the teaser trailer, when she was scaling an ice-wall using a Valinorean knife as an ice-pick, although if you compare the two images you’ll notice that Empire’s photographers have done away with the chainmail coif and cloth cap she was wearing in the trailer. But of course, we have to talk about the big eight-pointed star enmeshed in her tunic, because fans are once again demanding to know why Galadriel is proudly wearing the symbol of her cousin Fëanor, who slaughtered her mother’s kinfolk at Alqualondë and left her in the Helcaraxë to die, and once again I’m at a loss for how to answer.
My best guess is that Amazon was trying to recreate the six-pointed star of Eärendil, who was only distantly related to Galadriel but played an integral role in bringing about the end of the wars with Morgoth, in which Galadriel had participated (well, kind of; more on that here). The six-pointed star represents the Silmaril jewel which Eärendil wore on his brow into battle with the dragon Ancalagon the Black, and a remnant of this Silmaril’s light was later captured by Galadriel in a vial which she gifted to Frodo Baggins in The Lord Of The Rings. But I don’t know why Amazon wouldn’t recreate the symbol more faithfully if that was the intention – especially since, if you look very closely at the tunic, some of the smaller stars surrounding the big eight-pointed star of Fëanor do appear to have only six points arranged like the star of Eärendil, so it’s not like they weren’t allowed to.
Anyway, let’s move on to the second of the three magazine covers; this one depicting Prince Durin IV and Princess Disa of the Dwarven kingdom of Khazad-dûm attending a banquet.
Both of these characters were created for The Rings Of Power, although we know that at the very least, a Durin IV must have existed because there was a Durin III in the Second Age of Middle-earth and a Durin VI in the Third Age, several centuries later. We know nothing about Durin IV, specifically, except that he must have lived and died sometime between Second Age (S.A.) 1697 and Third Age (T.A.) 1731 and been a lot like Durin I because J.R.R. Tolkien explicitly writes in the appendices to The Lord Of The Rings that “five times an heir was born…so like to his Forefather [Durin I] that he received the name of Durin”. Durins II through VII were even believed to be reincarnations of Durin I, which works in the books because there are a few generations between each Durin.
As for Disa…well, as the spouse of Durin IV she too must have existed, but Tolkien never gave her a name, so Amazon has simply gone ahead and given her a name of their own creation – albeit clearly inspired by Dís, the name of the only Dwarven woman in the entirety of Tolkien’s works. Dís, the younger sister of Thorin Oakenshield and mother of Fíli and Kíli, lived in Erebor in the late Third Age. We know nothing about her beyond that, so we have no way of knowing whether the parallels between the two characters begin and end with their names, but I do quite like the idea of Dwarves inheriting the names of their ancestors based on how closely they resemble them in appearance and temperament. We’ll revisit this topic when Amazon adapts The Hobbit and gives Dis the subplot she deserves.
In the image of Durin IV and Disa, they sit together at a banquet (possibly their wedding banquet?), hands clasped over the table in a gesture of unity, wearing the same clothes we’ve now seen in the character posters, Vanity Fair images, and teaser trailer. I’m not complaining, because the clothes are beautiful, but surely the Prince and Princess of Khazad-dûm, the “many-pillared halls of stone with golden roof and silver floor” so eloquently described by Gimli in the Third Age, can afford a single costume change?
Gracing the third and last of the new Empire Magazine covers with their presence are three characters who probably can’t afford a costume change, but wear their burlap like it’s Balenciaga – give it up for the Harfoots from Wilderland!
Man, I love this cover. Of the three, it’s by far my favorite. And not because I know any of these characters, or have any reason to care about them just yet (they’re all original), but because The Rings Of Power’s costume designers and production designers have clearly put a lot of thought and effort into designing an aesthetic for the Harfoots of the Second Age that feels both fresh and familiar at once, by starting with what we know from The Lord Of The Rings, which is that the Hobbits of the late Third Age are heavily inspired by late 19th Century England’s patchwork of rural communities, and then working backwards from that point.
The result is these Neolithic or Early Bronze Age Hobbits (referred to as Harfoots to drive home the point that they’re different from the Hobbits we know), and I’m in love with this whole concept because it feels so very Tolkienian to use real-world history in this way as a guideline for how to construct a fantasy civilization. It also reminds me of how concept artist Paul Lasaine described Frodo’s journey in The Lord Of The Rings films as taking him further and further backwards through stages of England’s ancient history to an “almost primordial situation” represented by Mordor. The Rings Of Power is taking that same journey backwards, the only difference being that we’re starting out a hell of a lot further back in time already.
That said, I can’t help but cringe a little at the names chosen for these three original Harfoot characters, which are so obviously supposed to sound “hobbity” that they accidentally work against the costume designers and production designers’ best efforts to achieve that immersive effect. I mean, Elanor Brandyfoot? Poppy Proudfellow? I can maybe excuse Sadoc Burrows, because it sounds somehow more natural to my ear, but these names sound like they were plucked at random from a Hobbit name-generator that’s only taking into consideration the naming conventions of late Third Age Hobbits of the Shire, not mid to late Second Age Harfoots of Wilderland. You’re telling me that their language and naming conventions never changed in a span of over three-thousand years? I don’t buy it.
Just to add to the confusion, Elanor’s name is Sindarin Elvish, and while there is one notable example of a Hobbit named Elanor, that Hobbit was the eldest daughter of Samwise Gamgee, who encountered the golden flower which the Elves called elanor (“sun-star”) in Lórien, after being granted safe passage through the guarded realm by Galadriel herself. Hardly a regular occurrence, I’d imagine! But it’s important to remember that The Rings Of Power is set in the Second Age, and we don’t know exactly when in the Second Age, either (except that it’s sometime prior to S.A. 1600, the year the Rings of Power were forged) – so it’s entirely possible that when the show opens, Galadriel might not yet have entered Lórien, and the realm might not be closed-off to the outside world.
One could also argue that elanor flowers pop up on the margins of Lórien’s forests, and that’s where Elanor Brandyfoot’s parents found them. Doesn’t explain how they learned the flower’s Elvish name, however. Tolkien tells us in the prologue to The Lord Of The Rings that Harfoots weren’t overly friendly with Elves in ancient times, much preferring the company of the Dwarves who lived in the Misty Mountains. Elanor’s parents must have been exceptional Harfoots indeed, then, if they were willing to venture close enough to Lórien to not only encounter Elves but actually speak with them and learn flower-names from them. Something tells me Elanor’s parents are dead or missing in the current day, she wants to explore “what else is out there”, as she says in the trailer, and her community disapproves which is why she’s so drawn to the mysterious Meteor Man…oh yeah, it’s all coming together now.
I don’t have much to add regarding Poppy or Sadoc, since we don’t know all that much about either of them just yet. Sadoc, played by British comedian Lenny Henry, is rumored to be the leader of the Harfoots; he was also shown holding a scroll in his character poster, which implies to me that he’s the keeper of some secrets – the truth about the origins of Harfoots, perhaps? I don’t know why the murky subject of Hobbit prehistory is so fascinating to me, but if The Rings Of Power gives us even a stupid explanation for where they came from, I will be so happy.
Anyway, which is your favorite of these three magazine covers, and when do you hope to see another trailer for The Rings Of Power? Can’t be long now! Share your own thoughts, theories, and opinions, in the comments below!
So we’ve all seen the first teaser trailer for Amazon’s The Rings Of Power, right? I mean, it was the fourth most-viewed trailer in its first twenty-four hours of release after the first trailer for Spider-Man: No Way Home and the first and last trailers for Avengers: Endgame, so I’m just gonna assume we’ve all seen it by this point. I’m also gonna assume that a fair number of the record-breaking 257 million views on that Rings Of Power teaser came from people who aren’t necessarily familiar with the characters, events, and locations being portrayed in this prequel to The Lord Of The Rings.
And that’s totally okay, by the way. I won’t be asking for your signatures in Tengwar script to prove that you’re a “true fan”, because frankly, even if I did, I (*pause for dramatic effect*) don’t know how to read or write Tengwar myself! Heck, I might as well tell you now, I only know, like, ten or fifteen Elvish words in total and virtually none of the grammar that’s supposed to go in between.
Okay, so maybe not the wisest thing to admit while simultaneously trying to position myself as a reliable source of information on the deep lore of J.R.R Tolkien’s legendarium, but (a) my point is that this can be an intimidating fandom but it really doesn’t matter to me whether you’ve read The Lord Of The Rings and its appendices twenty times, or whether you’ve never read a word of Tolkien in your entire life but were intrigued by something in the teaser trailer for The Rings Of Power, because I try to make my content accessible to everyone, and also (b) I actually have read the books and appendices more than twenty times, so please trust me! I absorbed the lore better than I did the languages, I swear.
To prove it, today we’re going to be diving into the nebulous and often contradictory lore surrounding one of the most enigmatic characters in all of Tolkien’s works, and the rumored protagonist of The Rings Of Power – the Lady Galadriel. The marketing for Amazon’s series makes it clear that Morfydd Clark’s Galadriel is, if nothing else, the most competitive of several candidates vying for top-billing in a large ensemble cast rounded out by Robert Aramayo’s Elrond, Maxim Baldry’s Isildur, and Markella Kavenagh’s Elanor “Nori” Brandyfoot (each of these characters warrants their own introductory post in good time, but I wanted to start with Galadriel because she just so happens to be my favorite character in Tolkien’s legendarium).
And despite how difficult it is to piece together a clear account of her life from J.R.R. Tolkien’s writings on the subject, Galadriel is the obvious choice to lead. Because if The Rings Of Power, a prequel distanced from the events of The Lord Of The Rings by a span of over three-thousand years, is going to be commercially successful, it needs to provide fans of The Lord Of The Rings (the books and the films) with something they can grab hold of that makes them feel safe and comfortable in this unfamiliar era of Middle-earth’s history.
And amidst all the characters of that era whose names and great deeds had faded into legend by the time of The Lord Of The Rings, characters like Isildur and Elendil and Gil-galad, there is one who stands out from the rest – one whose life-story spans the entirety of Middle-earth’s recorded history, from the literal beginning of time to the very last date etched in the Tale of Years. And that is Galadriel.
Galadriel is approximately 8372 years old by the time of The Lord Of The Rings – technically making her the second-oldest Elf in Middle-earth (at least that we know of) after Círdan the Shipwright, who is somewhere between 10741 to 11364 years old. Characters like Treebeard and Tom Bombadil are significantly older than both of them, though by an indeterminate margin (Treebeard is estimated to be around 30000 years old by fans, while Tom claims to predate the first rivers and trees in Middle-earth, making him roughly 50000 to 60000 years old). But the advantage Galadriel has over all these other characters is that she actually…did stuff.
By that, I mean she’s integral to the story that The Rings Of Power plans to tell over the course of five or more seasons; the story of the Second Age of Middle-earth, beginning with the forging of the Rings of Power and concluding in the tumultuous War of the Last Alliance. I am aware that Círdan also participated in these events, to a slightly lesser extent than Galadriel, but he lacks the name recognition necessary for a protagonist in this case, as well as a clearly defined character arc. Galadriel possesses both.
And yet…there is one itty-bitty problem with Galadriel being the protagonist. You see, even after publishing The Lord Of The Rings, J.R.R. Tolkien couldn’t help but continue altering fundamental aspects of his characters’ backstories, and Galadriel was the victim of some pretty aggressive edits the author made near the end of his life, meaning there is no “canonical” version of her story for Amazon to adapt. Even the stray bits and pieces of Galadriel’s backstory provided in the pages of The Lord Of The Rings subtly contradict details in the book’s own appendices.
Before we go any further, I ought to note that Amazon has the rights to The Lord Of The Rings and its appendices (and The Hobbit), but Rings Of Power showrunners Patrick McKay and J.D. Payne have vehemently denied that their deal with the Tolkien Estate granted them access to the author’s posthumously published writings, including The Silmarillion and Unfinished Tales, which altogether contain the most complete version of Galadriel’s story. We do not know the truth of the matter just yet.
The Silmarillion is a history textbook covering the First Age and Second Age of Middle-earth in great detail and then kinda glossing over the events of the Third Age (the period of time in which The Hobbit and The Lord Of The Rings take place). J.R.R. Tolkien began writing it in the early 1910’s, and at one point intended to publish it alongside The Lord Of The Rings so that readers would understand the frequent references to in-universe historical events, legendary battles, and tales of ancient heroes. He never finished, leaving his youngest son Christopher with the daunting task of having to compile his notes into a workable narrative.
The published Silmarillion is still regarded as inherently less “canon” than The Lord Of The Rings because it wasn’t ever approved for publication by J.R.R. Tolkien himself and had to be heavily abridged, but the tale it tells of Galadriel is one that many fans – including myself – have fallen in love with and regard as canon because it’s the version of Galadriel’s story alluded to in The Lord Of The Rings, and the only one that makes any sense.
As for Unfinished Tales, the nature of the work (an anthology of stories Tolkien started, but never had the time or inclination to complete) means that it is inherently less cohesive than The Silmarillion, but it also contains a level of detail that The Silmarillion does not possess, and that makes it a rewarding read for anyone interested in the rich lore of Middle-earth. Some of the most well-known anecdotes about Galadriel’s life come from Unfinished Tales, and are fairly easy to superimpose onto the version of her story in The Silmarillion. Nonetheless, I will point out these instances as we proceed.
Per The Silmarillion, Galadriel was born in the Undying Lands of Valinor at a time when the High Elves were still under the protection of Middle-earth’s gods. For the sake of simplification, we’re just going to pretend that time existed as a concept back when Galadriel was born, even though it…didn’t. Middle-earth didn’t have a sun or a moon back then, so there were no days or months or years, but there were these durations of time called Valian Years, which correspond to either nine or 144 of our solar years depending on which of Tolkien’s writings on the subject you regard as more “canon”, and as if that isn’t confusing enough you also have to factor in that the passage of time literally feels slower in Valinor, so 144 solar years might feel like just one solar year to a Valinorean, and…argh, I said we were just gonna pretend that time existed, and I’ve already failed!
Anyway…when Galadriel was born, there was no sun and moon, so the only natural light emanated from the stars (which were created by the goddess Varda), and from two trees planted by the gods in the middle of Valinor, which glowed brightly and bathed the Undying Lands in a warm, purifying light. All of the Elves touched by this light retained a kind of magical residue on their bodies that formed an aura, but Galadriel is the only Elf we know of whose hair, specifically, was believed to have caught this residue and became “lit with gold” as a result. Keep that in mind; it’ll come up again later.
The Silmarillion doesn’t have a whole lot to say regarding Galadriel’s early life in Valinor. Unfinished Tales, however, tells us that when she was still young, “she grew to be tall beyond the measure even of the women of the Noldor; she was strong of body, mind, and will, a match for both the loremasters and the athletes of the Eldar in the days of their youth”. The famous letter in which Tolkien described Galadriel as having once been “of Amazon disposition” is not included in either book, but I’m mentioning it here because The Rings Of Power appears to be extrapolating on that idea.
As she was the granddaughter of the High King Finwë by way of his second marriage, we can safely assume she lived in the capital city of Tirion-upon-Túna – a location that had never appeared in live-action until last year, when the first official image from The Rings Of Power revealed a Valinorean panorama including Tirion, the Two Trees, and an unidentified figure rumored to be Finrod, Galadriel’s eldest brother. They were beloved by their grandfather Finwë, but treated with contempt by Fëanor, Finwë’s eldest son and the only one born to his first wife, Míriel.
Fëanor didn’t approve of his father’s second marriage, and The Silmarillion assures us that, like, a whole bunch of High Elves felt the same way. Names? You’re asking for names? Uh…well, the narrator talked to at least seven people who were definitely not the sons of Fëanor wearing fedoras and fake mustaches. All joking aside, it’s a weird part of the book where it feels like the devoutly Catholic Tolkien really wants to draw some correlation between Finwë’s remarriage and Fëanor being a jerk, but he doesn’t quite manage it and then backtracks to add that it’s a good thing Finwë did have more children, because someone needed to keep Fëanor in check, and it sure as hell wasn’t gonna be any of his kids.
Needless to say, everyone in Valinor was pretty relieved when Fëanor decided to channel his pent-up frustration with his father into seemingly inoffensive pastimes like art and alchemy, but Finwë’s other children and grandchildren were especially happy because it meant that for the greater part of any given Valian Year Fëanor and his sons would be holed up in their forge, and nobody had to interact with them except at dinner parties, and on those occasions you just had to hope that Fëanor would be too busy showing off his new inventions for him to find time to pick on you. Sometimes he’d even invent something useful, like an alphabet, and then other times it would just be weird, like when he designed a bunch of creepy all-seeing orbs that could stare at you from across a continent.
Most people would choose to rest on their laurels after creating the alphabet, but Fëanor wanted to one-up himself and the gods at the same time, because what could possibly go wrong with a plan that involves potentially incurring the wrath of a pantheon of omnipotent deities on whom you and your people rely for literally everything, including protection from a Dark Lord who wants to turn you all into orcs for his nihilistic amusement?
Fast-forward a few Valian Years, and Fëanor emerges triumphant from his forge with three jewels called Silmarils (hence The Silmarillion). These jewels, these Silmarils, were imbued with some of the precious light of the Two Trees, making them eerily similar to NFTs in that they served no real purpose except to give the possessor (i.e. Fëanor) a false sense of ownership over something he did not create and which was already freely accessible to everyone in Valinor; the only difference being that the Silmarils actually turned out to be worth something in the end. In Unfinished Tales, it’s even suggested that the idea for the Silmarils came to Fëanor after studying Galadriel’s hair, and that he begged her three times for a sample to use in his experiments, but “[she] would not give him even one hair”.
The gods decided to let Fëanor keep his NFTs as long as he shut up about the limitless potential of cryptocurrency, but the Dark Lord Morgoth was obsessed with the idea of taking them for himself (which should tell you something about the type of people who want to own NFTs), and he quickly realized that while Fëanor’s covetous attitude toward the Silmarils meant they were kept closely-guarded at all times, it also meant the Elf would walk blindly into any trap if he felt his Silmarils were threatened. Morgoth laid the groundwork for his trap by traveling among the Elves and regaling them with tales about the lands in Middle-earth they could rule if only the gods would allow them to leave Valinor.
It’s safe to assume that Galadriel was one of the Elves on whom Morgoth’s words made a strong impression. Because when the Dark Lord finally stole the Silmarils and fled to Middle-earth, leaving a trail of dead bodies (including poor old Finwë’s) for Fëanor to follow, Galadriel unexpectedly joined Fëanor in calling for a man-hunt to find the Dark Lord and bring him to justice. She didn’t particularly care about reclaiming the Silmarils, but “she yearned to see the wide unguarded lands and to rule there a realm at her own will”, in stark contrast to her father Finarfin and brother Orodreth, who “spoke softly” in an effort to cool Fëanor’s hot temper, and to her brother Finrod, who hated Fëanor’s guts and made no secret of it.
Something that nobody seems to have considered while arguing over whether or not to leave Valinor was whether or not they could leave Valinor. No one had ever tried before. The Undying Lands were separated from Middle-earth by a wide ocean at the time, and the only land-bridge connecting the two continents lay somewhere in the uttermost north. So for a while, everybody just kinda walked aimlessly along the beach while they waited for somebody at the front of the line to settle on a direction. The House of Finarfin, including Finrod, is said to have been at the rear – “and often they looked behind them to see [Tirion]“.
It would seem out-of-character for Galadriel to be one of those glancing over her shoulder at the home she was about to leave behind, considering how eager she was to leave, but it would probably make even less sense for her to be amongst Fëanor’s folk at the front of the line; the reason being that Fëanor actually had a destination in mind – Alqualondë, the coastal port-city of the Sea-elves, Galadriel’s family on her mother’s side. He had assumed the Sea-elves would just give him all of their ships for free (reasonable dude, Fëanor), and was stunned speechless when they essentially told him to bugger off. So he killed them and took their ships by force.
The Elves who arrived late to the battle didn’t know what the hell was going on, and just started stabbing people randomly, turning the harbor of Alqualondë into a bloodbath. The Silmarillion simply never tells us whether Galadriel, Finrod, and Finarfin took part in this “Kinslaying”, and avoids implicating any of them in the atrocity at all – an imperfect solution on Christopher Tolkien’s part to a problem that J.R.R. Tolkien appears to have encountered every time he rewrote Galadriel’s story and reached this pivotal moment; how to get Galadriel to Middle-earth with only a medium-sized blemish on her reputation for goodness?
A manuscript published in the Unfinished Tales tells us that Galadriel indeed took part in the Kinslaying, but “fought fiercely against Fëanor in defence of her mother’s kin”, and this is the idea that Tolkien seems to have been the most stubbornly satisfied with…for a little while, at least. In recent months, this passage has been quoted and discussed at length, as it provides textual evidence for The Rings Of Power‘s interpretation of Galadriel as a warrior, and paints a pretty epic picture of her.
It’s unfortunate, then, that this passage doesn’t fit comfortably within the broader narrative and never has, because Tolkien still needed Galadriel to continue following Fëanor after the Kinslaying – and whether or not it makes sense for her to do so after Fëanor killed many of her people, it’s completely unlike Fëanor to allow her to do so after she had presumably killed or injured some of his. Even though he eventually chose to leave Galadriel and most of the House of Finarfin stranded in the far north (taking with him to Middle-earth only those “whom he deemed true to him”), to argue that that was his plan all along and that he was playing the long game requires a leap in logic I’m not willing to make.
Unfinished Tales contains a rapid, fascinating summary of another version of Galadriel’s story that Tolkien had sketched out shortly before his death in 1973. In this rewrite, he did what most writers do at least once when confronted with a case of characters not doing what they’re supposed to do, and started over from scratch. Galadriel abruptly ceased to be a member of Fëanor’s rebellion and became thoroughly independent from him, with her own goal of sailing to Middle-earth as an adventurer. She just happened to choose a really bad day to set out from Alqualondë, and had to fight Fëanor and his people as they tried to board her ship. This version still gives us a warrior Galadriel (and a seafaring warrior Galadriel at that), but it does remove a layer of complexity from the character that I would have missed.
To recap, the published Silmarillion doesn’t mention Galadriel in connection with the Kinslaying at Alqualondë. By the time we catch up with her again, four whole pages have passed since the Kinslaying and a lot has happened. The gods finally got involved by sending a message to Fëanor (“accidentally” blind-CCing all the Elves in the process) to tell him that he could go to Middle-earth and get swallowed by a dragon for all they care, but that anyone who followed him would be banished from Valinor forever, and when Morgoth inevitably killed them all, even their souls would be forbidden from entering the halls of the dead.
Finarfin didn’t need to be told twice to get the hint, and chose to return to Tirion and become High King of the twenty or so Elves left in Valinor. Fëanor and the rest of the Elves continued northward, following the coast of Valinor on land in their ships – until at some point, Fëanor decided that it would be easier to just steal the ships and set sail for Middle-earth, leaving the other Elves stranded in the frigid wastelands north of Valinor. Galadriel finally reappears, and along with her brother Finrod heroically takes command of the dire situation and leads the Elves across the icy land-bridge connecting Valinor to Middle-earth.
This is probably as good a time as any to point out that Galadriel and a group of Elves can be seen traversing an icy landscape in the first teaser trailer for The Rings Of Power, although this scene is said to take place in Middle-earth and not in Valinor, as some had hoped. The giveaway is the bright sunlight beaming down on Galadriel in those shots in the trailer – at the time that Galadriel led the Elves across the Grinding Ice in pursuit of Fëanor, the sun and moon had still not been created.
Unfortunately, Tolkien wrote very little about the crossing in The Silmarillion, and even less in Unfinished Tales. Many Elves died, whether by starving to death or drowning under the ice, but enough survived and were hardened by the experience that their army still made for a fearsome and awe-inspiring sight when they came down from the north into the lands of Middle-earth at the very moment that the sun arose. Morgoth cowered in his fortress under the earth, and his orcs fled before the Elves and permitted them to march straight up to Morgoth’s front gate and beat upon the doors, and Galadriel was probably there but Tolkien doesn’t tell us exactly what she was doing.
With the dawn of the sun, the First Age of Middle-earth officially began. Oh, you thought we were in the First Age already? Haha, no, all of that was just the Years of the Trees. The First Age, however, only lasted about six-hundred years (the Second and Third Ages, for comparison, span over three-thousand years each), and for most of this time Galadriel stayed in the forest realm of Doriath. She and Finrod were invited there by King Elu Thingol (who was the brother of their maternal grandfather), and Galadriel fell in love with an Elven prince named Celeborn whom she met there.
If you thought Galadriel’s backstory was complex, don’t even get me started on Celeborn. In The Lord Of The Rings and the published Silmarillion, it’s mentioned that he’s a “kinsman of Thingol”, which sounds about right…until you remember that Galadriel is also a kinswoman of Thingol, and before you know it you’re poring over fictional family trees desperately trying to prove that Galadriel and Celeborn are not first cousins, they can’t possibly be first cousins…right? Well, yes and no. It depends on which version of Galadriel’s story you’re reading. They’re only first cousins in the version where she sets sail from Alqualondë on her own ship. Before that, they were just second cousins.
While Finrod went off and established his own kingdom in Nargothrond, Galadriel remained in Doriath with Celeborn, learning magical arts and lore from Elu Thingol’s wife, Melian, a minor goddess. As far as we know, she took no active part in the wars against Morgoth or in the later efforts by Fëanor’s sons and other heroes to reclaim the Silmarils, nor did she immediately seek power for herself – probably because she understood just by looking around that until Morgoth was defeated and Fëanor’s family were dead, the Elves would have little peace in Middle-earth. Also, Finrod had once prophesied that Nargothrond would fall, which can’t have filled Galadriel with much confidence for her own prospects.
Finrod’s prophecy came to pass (prophecies have a way of doing that), but neither he nor Galadriel was there to witness the Sack of Nargothrond and the slaughter of Finarfin’s folk. Finrod died in the year 465 of the First Age, and sometime between then and 495, Galadriel packed her things and left Doriath, crossing the Blue Mountains into the unoccupied lands of Eriador. She is sometimes said to have done so alone, but Celeborn probably joined her no later than 506, when he is said to have fled the Sack of Doriath.
Less than a hundred years later, the War of Wrath happened (in which Morgoth was finally vanquished by the gods, and the last of Fëanor’s seven sons either died or disappeared), and at this point The Silmarillion completely loses track of Galadriel in all the chaos and Unfinished Tales picks up their plot-thread in a short text which Christopher Tolkien described as “almost the sole narrative source for the events in the West of Middle-earth up to the defeat and expulsion of Sauron from Eriador in the year 1701 of the Second Age”. These are the events that The Rings Of Power hopes to adapt across its first season.
In this story, Galadriel and Celeborn cross the Blue Mountains into Eriador after the War of Wrath and settle at various locations between Lake Nenuial in the north-west and Eregion in the east, under the shadow of the Misty Mountains and close to the Dwarven city of Khazad-dûm. At some point during their travels, Galadriel gave birth to a daughter, Celebrían (and for the first and only time is mentioned as having a son, Amroth, but this detail is never reflected in The Lord Of The Rings, so I don’t regard it as canon).
Celeborn had no affection for Dwarves, but Galadriel is said to have “looked upon the Dwarves also with the eye of a commander, seeing in them the finest warriors to pit against the Orcs”. When she was ousted from Eregion in a coup led by the craftsman Celebrimbor and a mysterious stranger named Annatar, the Dwarves allowed her safe passage through Khazad-dûm to the woodland realm of Lórinand on the eastern side of the Misty Mountains.
Celeborn “remained behind in Eregion, disregarded by Celebrimbor”.
It soon became apparent to all that the stranger named Annatar was none other than Sauron, formerly the lieutenant of Morgoth, and that he had planned to manipulate the Elven craftspeople of Eregion into forging Rings of Power with which to ensnare the free peoples of Middle-earth. Celebrimbor therefore crossed the Misty Mountains and took counsel from Galadriel, who advised him to give her one of the Rings (no ulterior motive there, that’s for sure!) and to hide the others far from Eregion.
Of the nineteen Rings of Power forged by Celebrimbor and Sauron, sixteen came into Sauron’s possession when he attacked Eregion – but three eluded him forever, and these were the three given to the Elves; one to Galadriel in Lórinand, and two to Galadriel’s young cousin Gil-galad in the realm of Lindon. Sauron considered attacking Lórinand, but the doors of Khazad-dûm were shut and he could not cross the Misty Mountains. Instead, he went after Gil-galad, because there were only so many Elves to whom Celebrimbor would have entrusted a Ring of Power and their identities weren’t exactly secret.
Sauron came very close to defeating Gil-galad and capturing his Rings, but was foiled at the last moment by a Númenórean fleet out of the west, who drove him out of Eriador and back to the shadowed realm of Mordor. “For many years the Westlands had peace”, and in this time Galadriel and Celebrían returned over the Misty Mountains and reunited with Celeborn in the haven of Imladris. Gil-galad joined them for a war-council in which it was decided that he should give one of his Rings of Power to the young lord Elrond of Imladris – who by an extraordinary coincidence had just fallen in love with Galadriel’s daughter, Celebrían (nothing suspicious about that, that’s for sure!)
For more context on Elrond and the Númenóreans, I suggest you check out some of my earlier posts, namely this one and this one – although I will be continuing this series soon with a post about the Númenórean prince Isildur. It should be a lot easier to write than this one, which required me to have several books and literally dozens of search-tabs open simultaneously.
As for Galadriel, well, that’s her entire story through The Rings Of Power season one, at least based on what we currently know. I can’t promise that everything you’ve read in this post will make it into the show, but I do believe that having this context will help a lot of people – particularly new fans – better understand the characters who inhabit Middle-earth, and I hope you’ve enjoyed it. Be sure to share your own thoughts, theories, and opinions, in the comments below!