Hot Take: Sauron Is More Than Just A Floating Eyeball, OK?

Peter Jackson did a lot of things right when he adapted J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord Of The Rings to the big screen. That’s not up for debate, at least not to me. The simple way in which he empowers Frodo on Mount Doom? Flawless. The additional scenes that enrich Boromir’s character? Impeccable. The lighting of the beacons? Unsurpassable. Jackson gave us probably the best adaptation we could have asked for: a masterpiece of modern cinema that honored the already legendary source material, while making it accessible to general audiences.

Sauron
Eye of Sauron | slate.com

But then he goes and turns Sauron into a giant floating eyeball, and it’s like: seriously, PJ? You were doing so well! I mean, you butchered Faramir…and Merry…and Gimli, and Treebeard, and nearly Théoden too, but other than that you were doing so well!

On paper, this decision probably seemed like a great way to very literally interpret Tolkien’s repeated references to the malevolent, all-seeing Eye of Sauron. But in execution (and perhaps especially in hindsight, now that the sheer spectacle of a fiery CGI eyeball isn’t enough on its own to distract from the inherent silliness of that idea), Jackson’s Sauron comes across as underwhelming and unscary. He’s inspired a great many memes (most of which ask, quite profoundly I might add, what the CGI eyeball planned to actually do with the One Ring when he had obtained it, seeing as Jackson’s version seemed to lack any fingers), but fear and awe: not so much.

Yet unfortunately, it’s that image of Sauron as an eye suspended between the prongs of Barad-dûr that has become embedded in the public consciousness, supplanting both Tolkien’s own written words, and the works of countless Tolkien artists and illustrators who preceded Jackson. And the fact that Jackson’s Sauron is so borderline cartoonish has only made it easier for people to claim that Sauron is a “one-dimensional” villain and that therefore The Lord Of The Rings is a shallow “good vs. evil” fantasy. I can understand why: if I only knew Sauron as a floating eye, I too would have a hard time believing he has one of the most fascinating character arcs in all of Tolkien’s legendarium.

But Amazon Prime’s The Lord Of The Rings finally has an opportunity to change the public perception of Sauron. I’m not saying I want people to think of him as a misunderstood antihero or anything like that, but it would be nice to finally give general audiences a clearer idea of his nuances, and the layers to his motivations beyond just wanting to “cover all the lands in a second darkness”, than they would necessarily get from watching Jackson’s movies or even from reading The Lord Of The Rings itself.

The bare bones of Sauron’s backstory are covered in The Silmarillion, a compendium of tales and legends from Middle-earth’s prehistory. It’s very briefly explained there that Sauron was once a Maia – which in Tolkien’s universe means that he was something like an angel; very powerful, but a lesser spirit compared to the archangels, or Valar, who answered directly to “God”, Eru Ilúvatar. Dig a little deeper, and you’ll discover that before he was known as Sauron, this particular Maia went by the name of Mairon (which translates to The Admirable). He was a craftsman and artisan for the Valar…until he was seduced to the darkness by the fallen angel, Morgoth.

As Morgoth’s most trusted lieutenant, Mairon’s power only increased – and he became known as Sauron (The Abhorred). Throughout The Silmarillion, he and Morgoth are depicted as being largely of the same mind: and even after Morgoth’s downfall (and I mean that in the most literal sense of the word), Sauron rejects the mercy of the Valar and chooses to hide in Middle-earth, seemingly to continue Morgoth’s agenda of chaos. When he conquers the kingdom of Númenor from within, he sets up temples to Morgoth and establishes a death-cult around his former master. It’s easy to see why many fans ship the two: they’re cute in a…toxic, vicious, self-destructive sort of way.

Sauron
Sauron the Ring-Maker | quora.com

But in my opinion, even The Silmarillion strips away many of Sauron’s fascinating layers – understandably, because in its published form its basically an abridged version of a much larger and more intricate epic. Tolkien’s most concise and insightful exploration into the psyche of Sauron (again, just my opinion; feel free to disagree) comes from Morgoth’s Ring, one of many posthumously published texts on Middle-earth:

“[Sauron] did not object to the existence of the world, so long as he could do what he liked with it. He still had the relics of positive purposes, that descended from the good of the nature in which he began: it had been his virtue (and therefore also the cause of his fall, and of his relapse) that he loved order and coordination, and disliked all confusion and wasteful friction….his capability of corrupting other minds, and even engaging their service, was a residue from the fact that his original desire for ‘order’ had really envisaged the good estate (especially physical well-being) of his ‘subjects'”

I’ve referred back to this idea a number of times, and I’ve used the term “perfectionist” to describe Sauron because that’s basically what he was, before, you know…the business with the Ring. Unlike Morgoth, Sauron didn’t want to destroy Middle-earth, and Tolkien himself points out the differences between the two, writing elsewhere in Morgoth’s Ring that Morgoth represents “sheer nihilism, and negation its one ultimate object”. Morgoth wanted to literally unmake the universe; but Sauron genuinely wanted to improve upon it. And he wanted to rule the universe he fashioned in his own “perfect” image.

We can see some of that still in the Second Age of Middle-earth, following Morgoth’s downfall. He never repented of his heinous deeds, but motivated by his jealousy of the Valar and their paradise he did genuinely want to redesign Middle-earth into something beautiful – more beautiful than anything the Valar could boast of in their Blessed Realm across the sea. As Tolkien writes above, he wanted to be a tyrant, but a “good” one, one worthy of the worship and reverence he would demand and receive from his subjects regardless. One could say there’s a desperate need for self-validation in that motive; a need to prove to himself that he was still good, that Morgoth had not corrupted him entirely.

But by joining Morgoth and turning away from true perfection (i.e. Eru Ilúvatar, who made the universe and all things in it), Sauron’s noble motives were perverted and distorted to suit his master’s nihilistic goal. In Tolkien’s legendarium, only Eru is capable of creation – Morgoth, Sauron, and all those who try to imitate Eru out of spite or jealousy, are at best only capable of copying the things Eru has created, or at worst of corrupting those things. For example, Morgoth’s trolls were his inferior copies of the Ents, while his orcs were Elves and Men whose bodies and souls he had mutilated. Sauron in turn became incapable of creating anything truly beautiful or perfect.

Now imagine how that must torture a perfectionist! Did it pain him to know that everything he touched would ultimately be corrupted, that his grand aspirations were literally unachievable? Or did it only further fuel his violent envy of the Valar and of Eru? Did he become a nihilist like Morgoth before him, convinced that if he could not fix the world because he himself stood in the way of that goal, he could at least tear everything down? Sauron would make a fascinating subject for a character study.

And with Amazon’s The Lord Of The Rings, that could finally happen – at least in some form. Amazon’s show is set during the Second Age, right at that crucial midpoint in Sauron’s journey where the best and worst of his qualities are in play, warring for control over him. Morgoth is out of the picture, yet still wields power over his lieutenant’s heart. Sauron is free to be good, even perhaps desires to be good, but cannot bear the humiliation of surrendering to the Valar. Ah, the inner turmoil!

Sauron
Sauron | looper.com

If Amazon pulls this off, it would be extraordinary. Some people will probably complain about how it’s unnecessarily overcomplicating a straightforward villain, and I get all that, but also…I just want people to know that there’s more to Sauron than a giant eyeball! Is that really so wrong?

Anyway, what do you want to see from Amazon’s The Lord Of The Rings? Feel free to share your own thoughts, theories, and opinions, in the comments below!

Amazon Unveils 1st Look At “The Lord Of The Rings”, And It’s Stunning

As chance would have it, I was out today when Amazon decided to drop a first look at The Lord Of The Rings. My timing, as always, was truly impeccable. But at this point, I’ve given up trying to figure out Amazon’s schedule – they seem to have a pattern of completely ignoring all the biggest and most significant dates in Tolkien lore, and instead choosing to release massive news on random days. Take today’s first-look image, for example. August 2nd, today’s date, has no significance as far as I can tell, either in J.R.R. Tolkien’s universe, or in a meta context, as the date of any one of his major publications. Considering how Amazon paired this first-look image with a caption reading “a new journey begins”, this reveal might have been better suited for July 29th, just a few days ago – the date on which The Fellowship Of The Ring was published, sixty-seven years ago.

The Lord Of The Rings
Behold, Valinor | theverge.com

But then, look at the release date Amazon has finally chosen for The Lord Of The Rings – September 2nd, 2022. Nope, I’m not missing a two. Amazon is passing over September 22nd (arguably the single-most important date in Tolkien fandom, the date of Frodo and Bilbo Baggins’ dual birthdays and Hobbit Day to fans around the world) in favor of a completely random premiere date for their series*. I’ll give you that choosing Hobbit Day would only further blur the lines between Amazon’s prequel series and The Lord Of The Rings proper, but hey, Amazon seems to be blurring the lines between their series and The Silmarillion anyway, so what’s a little more blurriness if it means getting to celebrate Hobbit Day with a massive Lord Of The Rings event next year?

What’s not blurry is the crisp, clean image that Amazon has provided us today, on this most random of days. It’s so exquisitely detailed that you’d be forgiven for thinking it’s only a promotional photo or even a piece of concept artwork – but what we’re seeing here is apparently our very first official still from the premiere episode of The Lord Of The Rings…and reader, I’m a bit overwhelmed with emotion at the beautiful sight.

To say I cried is a bit of an understatement. I’ve been waiting for this moment for a very long time, you know. But thankfully, I’ve had a moment to compose myself, I’ve taken a deep breath, I’ve relaxed, and ERU ABOVE ARE THOSE THE TWO TREES OF VALINOR?!?!?

The image in question is deceptive in that at first glance it could be any city in the heyday of the Second Age of Middle-earth, when Amazon’s The Lord Of The Rings is set (roughly three-thousand years before The Lord Of The Rings trilogy). My initial impression was that it had to be Ost-in-Edhil, the capital of the Elven kingdom of Eregion where the Rings of Power were forged during the Second Age – I saw a city sprawling across the foothills of some mountains, a figure clad in white who I assumed was Lady Galadriel, and a pretty sunset. And then I zoomed in and realized that the sunset was in fact not a sun – but an explosion of light emanating from the silhouette of a towering tree in the far distance, with another one just behind it.

“Stunned speechless” is probably the best way to sum up my reactions to this image, then. Seeing Ost-in-Edhil and Eregion would no doubt have been cool, and would have tied in very nicely with The Lord Of The Rings, giving general audiences a hook; remember that place in the prologue to Fellowship, where the Rings were made? This is that! But seeing what I now have to believe is the Blessed Land of Aman (better known as Valinor) and the Elven city of Tirion upon the green hill of Túna, illuminated by the light of the Two Trees in the dawn of the First Age before there even was a dawn, or a sun – that’s something beyond cool. Never in our lifetimes have we seen any part of The Silmarillion adapted for the screen because access to the book and its treasure trove of iconic imagery and arcane lore was famously off-limits to filmmakers. Now, as TheOneRing.net recently reported, everything is on the table.

The Lord Of The Rings
The Killing Of The Trees by John Howe | pinterest.com

So what does that mean for the show? Well, it’s still going to be set in the Second Age, so it makes sense why this beautiful shot of a First Age landscape is drawn from the first episode. It looks like TheOneRing.net was also ahead of the curve when they revealed that the first two episodes of The Lord Of The Rings, both directed by J.A. Bayona, will form an epic feature-length film – an introduction of sorts to this new version of Tolkien’s universe. I speculated that this film would be set during the beginning of the Second Age, but it seems the story will begin even earlier in Tolkien’s timeline, during the height of Valinorian culture under the watchful eyes of the Valar, Middle-earth’s pantheon of god-like deities. This film will set up the story and our major players, and then we’ll jump into the rest of the series.

But why set the first episode so far back in the First Age? And why is Amazon concealing the identity of the white-clad figure standing near the bottom of the frame – most people think it’s Galadriel, and it very well could be (she was alive during the First Age, and lived in Valinor), but what if it’s not? Again, I think back to TheOneRing.net’s recent leaks: they revealed that neither the dark lord Sauron nor his alter ego of Annatar would be revealed in this first season of The Lord Of The Rings, but they said nothing of his original form as Mairon. My casual readers probably already abandoned this post when I started ranting about glowing trees, but hear me out: Sauron was once an angelic being named Mairon, basically a craftsman of the gods. During the First Age, Mairon lived in Valinor and would likely have traveled to and from the Elven city of Tirion to help build its towers and palaces.

The Lord Of The Rings might give us a glimpse of this pure, uncorrupted version of Sauron before his fall into darkness – precipitated, like most horrible things in Tolkien’s universe, by the tyrannical Morgoth, who seduced Sauron away from the Valar. Of course, this First Age flashback could also be setting up Galadriel’s arc or establishing the curse of the Fëanorians, or it might just be one part of a montage of Middle-earth history: but considering the hoops Amazon would have had to jump through to even get the rights to The Silmarillion that would allow them to film this, I have to assume whatever we’re seeing here is an important moment in the show. And building up the threat of Sauron, starting with the kind of complex and sorrowful backstory that will finally dispel the widespread belief that Sauron is a straightforward evil villain, seems like a worthwhile use of Silmarillion content.

Does this mean I’m going to have to resurrect my series of Second Age history deep-dives, but with the First Age too? Perhaps. We have a long wait ahead of us, but I for one welcome the extra time: I need to be prepared for this, folks! The fact that I cried over a picture of a tree should give you some hint as to the emotional state I’ll be in come September, 2022, when The Lord Of The Rings actually premieres.

The Lord Of The Rings
Galadriel | wallpaperflare.com

Let me turn it over to you, dear readers. Did you get emotional seeing this image, returning to Middle-earth (technically Aman, but whatever) for the first time since The Hobbit trilogy ended? What parts of The Silmarillion do you hope to see in The Lord Of The Rings, and when do you think Amazon will give us a proper title for this show so I can stop calling it The Lord Of The Rings and confusing half of my readers? Share your own thoughts, theories, and opinions, in the comments below!

* Okay, so I’m an idiot. September 2nd is the date of J.R.R. Tolkien’s death in 1973, not quite as “random” as all that. It feels like a strangely solemn date on which to premiere Amazon’s The Lord Of The Rings, but I did want to point this out.

“The Lord Of The Rings” New Leak Promises Short-Haired Elves

The slow and unpredictable trickle of information from the set of Amazon’s The Lord Of The Rings has not provided solid ground on which to build a fandom or even a following for the upcoming series. I think a fair number of us in the Tolkien community are definitely excited, but I think many folks are simply…curious, and still more don’t even know that a new adaptation of The Lord Of The Rings is on the way because Amazon has done virtually nothing to promote interest in their biggest fantasy series, much less clearly establish to general audiences that this show isn’t – technically – an adaptation of The Lord Of The Rings, but of the book’s lore-heavy appendices.

The Lord Of The Rings
The Lord Of The Rings | polygon.com

And that’s why leaks are so important. Leaks can increase or deflate public interest in a project far more effortlessly than a studio press release…and in “power vacuum” situations like this one, where the studio in question isn’t even interacting with their target audience yet or attempting to turn the narrative in their favor, leaks and rumors are especially vital. They can also be dangerous, as evidenced by the ongoing backlash to a rumor that Amazon would feature nudity and sexual activity in their adaptation of The Lord Of The Rings.

But today, TheOneRing.net (colloquially known as TORn) presented us with a bundle of set leaks, together forming the most substantial and invigorating information about Amazon’s The Lord Of The Rings since filming began, well over a year ago. Obviously, everything in these leaks is unconfirmed, and should be treated as rumor rather than fact, at least for now. But that being said, some of it lines up with other things we’ve heard or guessed, and I don’t doubt that TORn still has access to a reliable network of veteran spies across New Zealand. They claim to have verified most of the leaks with sources working on Amazon’s series, which is also an encouraging sign.

I, of course, will be running through each item on TORn’s bullet-point list of leaks based on my own personal interest: a ranking, of sorts. There’s a lot here, some of which could even form the basis of individual posts, if anybody would be interested.

The biggest news to come out of the leaks is that Amazon has apparently obtained rights to what TORn describes as “elements” and “passages” from The Silmarillion. This would confirm that Amazon’s deal with the Tolkien Estate, first forged in late 2017, is constantly evolving – perhaps because, as TORn claims, the Tolkien Estate is more closely involved with Amazon’s The Lord Of The Rings than with any previous Tolkien adaptation, and is apparently “very happy” about the direction the series is taking. I know for a fact that Tolkien fandom will be of two minds about this: some people will get excited by the prospect of an adaptation of The Silmarillion; others will be outraged by a perceived assault on Christopher Tolkien’s legacy. The truth, as TORn notes, is probably that the elements and passages in question are those contained in The Silmarillion‘s own appendices, which merely expand upon information in The Lord Of The Rings‘ appendices (and are further expanded upon in Unfinished Tales, but that’s a whole other set of rights).

A little further down TORn’s list, but higher up on mine, is news of a release date for the series: mid-2022, which matches up with recent reports obtained by Fellowship Of Fans from the New Zealand Film Commission detailing timeframes for Amazon’s marketing campaign. It’s not an exact date yet, but it would seem to suggest a late Spring or early Summer release, which sounds pretty good to me. Will I be digging through every text related to the Second Age of Middle-earth trying to find significant dates in that general timeframe on which Amazon might release the first season? You bet I will.

On a related note, TORn claims that “Main unit wrapped shooting in April 2021” – which again lines up with other reporting – and that while many of the cast have finished their work on season one and left New Zealand for the time being, there are still other “big stars” in the show that we haven’t heard about yet. No indication of whom, exactly, but this could tie into the very last point on TORn’s list: the identity of Sauron.

The Lord Of The Rings
The Eye of Sauron | businessinsider.com

According to the leaks, Sauron “will not be revealed in Season One”, nor will his alter ego of Annatar appear: possibly dispelling rumors that season one will focus on the Forging of the Rings and Annatar’s betrayal of the Elves. But the wording there makes me think that instead, Sauron will appear in other forms throughout the first season, with several different actors portraying the shapeshifting deceiver as he navigates through Middle-earth in the Second Age. That means general audiences and Tolkien fans alike will be surprised when Sauron is eventually revealed, and a new actor could potentially take on the role going into season two – kind of like a dark twist on Doctor Who. This actor could very well be someone with the star-power to keep fans hooked on the show, and it would make for a great cliffhanger. It also means that Joseph Mawle, who joined the cast as season one’s unnamed main villain, isn’t playing Sauron – I still hope he’s portraying the man who will become the Witch-King of Angmar.

According to TORn, Celebrimbor is the character whom Tom Budge was set to play before leaving the role because of creative differences. The character has since been recast, although he may not have a very large part to play in season one given that this incident seems to have had no effect on filming dates. I also suspect that Celebrimbor doesn’t appear in the first few episodes, directed by J.A. Bayona, which serve as “a standalone entry point to the series”.

That latter bit of information lends credence to some previous reporting from TORn that Bayona’s episodes form a feature-length film. I’m gonna call it now, this feature-length film probably deals with the very end of the First Age and the early days of the Second; from the great migration of Elves, Men, and Dwarves across Middle-earth, to the construction and enrichment of their great kingdoms in Lindon, Númenor, and Khazad-dûm, respectively.

Fascinatingly, the new leaks claim that Elves, Men, and Dwarves all “have their own sequestered production units” on The Lord Of The Rings. I cannot wait to learn what that’s about, since, as TORn editor Clifford Broadway speculates, it could suggest some kind of anthology or split-narrative approach to season one that would also emphasize the deep divides between the Free Peoples – and underscore the immensity of the threat that will bring them together in the final days of the Second Age during the War of the Last Alliance. Foreshadowing; we love to see it!

Apparently, the ancient ancestors of Hobbits – referred to in the leaks as Halflings – will also make an appearance in the show, though the extent of their role is unknown. I’m conflicted about this, and I really need to know more about what Amazon plans to do with their Halfling characters before I can pass judgment. But the fact that the Halflings will be played by Black and brown actors, including Sir Lenny Henry, is promising: again, a lot will come down to the execution of this idea, which has roots in Tolkien’s own writing (prepare for the inevitable discourse about how Tolkien’s reference to Harfoot Hobbits being “browner of skin” was actually a reference to very tan white people). During the Second Age, very little is known about the Halflings or their movements across Middle-earth: I rather suspect that by the end of the series, we’ll find them settled in the Gladden Fields, where thousands of years later a Halfling known as Sméagol would come upon the One Ring in the muddy waters where Isildur died.

Moving on to the most controversial item on the list, we have the surprising and somewhat bemusing revelation that Elves will apparently have short or shorter hairstyles in Amazon’s The Lord Of The Rings. I’ve seen a lot of backlash to this idea already, but I’ve got to be honest – I’m into it. There’s definitely arguments to be had about just how many of Tolkien’s Elves had long flowing locks, because some most certainly did, but the instantly iconic image of universally long-haired Elves is mostly a Peter Jackson creation. This change suggests that Amazon isn’t constrained by Jackson’s continuity, and I appreciate that. On a similar note, the show apparently swaps out the Jackson term “Cave Troll” for “Ice Troll”. Minor change, but it’s little details like this that reinforce my faith in the leak overall.

Over in the pile of “things that were never controversial to begin with but got blown wildly out of proportion”, we have the subject of nudity…or “sexless nudity”, as TORn proudly declared in their headline today. You may remember that TORn led the charge against the very concept of nudity or sexuality in The Lord Of The Rings after learning that an intimacy coach had been hired for the series; but today, it turns out all their fears were unfounded, because the nudity in Amazon’s series isn’t even remotely sexualized. In depicting the transformation of Elves into monstrous Orcs by Sauron’s corruptive evil, The Lord Of The Rings will apparently involve nudity “suggestive of concentration camp-type visuals of victims”.

And whether or not TORn’s claims that Tolkien scholar Tom Shippey had been fired from the set of The Lord Of The Rings had any validity, the new leaks state that three unnamed Tolkien scholars “were on set for a time”. The language here is slightly deceptive – they may have been on set, but more importantly, what did they think of the set? Who are they, and was one of them Shippey? Are they no longer working on the show? Can I apply for this job?

Lastly, we have one truly bizarre piece of news. Amazon apparently has “a fake production team shooting decoy footage on fake sets” simultaneously to the real production. I…have no words for how strange and distasteful that is to me, but I pray to Eru Ilúvatar that some of this decoy footage has a purpose, and isn’t just meant to keep people away from the real set. I mean, it would be one thing if anybody had even gotten a good look at the fake set, much less the real one, but so far we’ve seen virtually nothing besides fences and walls of shipping containers. If they’re trying to deceive us, at least…uh, tell us what we’re supposed to be deceived by?

The Lord Of The Rings
The One Ring | gadgets.ndtv.com

If Amazon is willing to go to such ridiculous levels to throw people off the scent, it’s hard to trust that this leak isn’t also a carefully planned distraction. But I hope it’s not, because I’m more excited now than I think I’ve ever been for this adaptation. Does this change your views on The Lord Of The Rings? Share your own thoughts, theories, and opinions, in the comments below!

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.