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: Moria And The Dwarves Of The 2nd Age

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

Moria
The Doors Of Moria | lotro-wiki.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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