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

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

Moria
The Doors Of Moria | lotro-wiki.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Middle-earth Explained: Eregion And The Rings Of Power

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

Eregion
Eregion in ruins | aminoapps.com

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

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

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

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

Eregion
Celebrimbor | aminoapps.com

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

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

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

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

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

Eregion
Sauron Forges The One Ring | rainbowdark.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lindon
The Grey Havens | looper.com

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

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

Middle-earth Explained: Numenor And The Men Of The West

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.

Numenor
Numenor | io9.gizmodo.com

One such region is Númenor, the “breathtaking island kingdom” mentioned by Amazon in their synopsis as one of the focal points of the series. “Breathtaking” is indeed an accurate descriptor: although the reign of the Númenóreans was relatively brief in the grand scale of Middle-earth’s history, they are incredibly significant to Tolkien’s saga – representing the very height of human vanity, and arguably one of the furthest falls from grace since the rebellion of Melkor in the First Age and the Kinslaying of the Elves in Valinor. In the Second Age, thousands of years before the time of Aragorn, his Númenórean ancestors built a vast empire spanning the oceans and unmapped coasts of Middle-earth…an empire that would ultimately collapse into ruinous calamity, at least partly because Tolkien had a lifelong obsession with the Atlantis myth and had to take it out on his fictional characters. And now Amazon’s Second Age series (which for some reason is still titled The Lord Of The Rings) will take us on an epic journey alongside the Númenóreans, through their heyday and their terrible fall.

To understand Númenor, we have to go back to the First Age of Middle-earth, and the frequent alliances between Men and Elves that forged a seemingly unbreakable bond of friendship between the two races. The First Age ended in a glorious triumph of good over evil, with Middle-earth’s entire pantheon of gods, the Valar, arriving in a divine cavalcade to finally defeat the dark lord Morgoth and disperse or destroy his armies of orcs and dragons: but defeating a dark lord is hard work, and sometimes requires you to destroy large portions of the world to do so – and thus, there was a refugee crisis in Middle-earth as Men and Elves had to flee from their ancestral homelands, trying to get out ahead of the rapidly disintegrating coastlines and crumbling mountain ranges. Thankfully for Men, the Valar were feeling pretty generous and decided to simply lift an island out of the sea as a gift to humans and compensation for their countless sacrifices. This island, most commonly known as Númenor, had many names: but one – Andor – literally means “The Land of Gift”.

As if that wasn’t enough, the gods also decided to give significantly longer lives (around 200 years, on average) to the Númenórean people, so they could enjoy their Land of Gift even longer and reap the benefits they had earned. This probably seemed like a good idea at the time. Spoiler Alert: it wasn’t.

But throughout the early Second Age, the Númenóreans were content with what they had: their star-shaped island and its farms, forests, rivers, seashores, and single mountain. This mountain, named the Meneltarma, rose out of the center of the island and was crowned by a holy shrine and a nesting-place of many sacred eagles. But because Númenor was situated directly in between Middle-earth and the divine lands of the Valar in distant Valinor, and because the Meneltarma was so tall, a person standing at the mountain’s summit on a clear day could just about see the shores of paradise to the west (because the earth was canonically flat in the Second Age). Elves from Valinor sometimes even visited Númenórean shores and delighted Men with their company and rich gifts, which had no equal in Middle-earth. But the Valar strictly prohibited Númenóreans from returning the favor and sailing to Valinor.

The first king of Númenor was Elros, the long-lived twin brother of Elrond Half-elven, but Amazon’s Middle-earth series will likely begin sometime after his reign – during an era of “relative peace”, as their synopsis claims, and presumably not long before the forging of the One Ring in Second Age 1600. I suspect the series will open in the waning years of Tar-Meneldur’s reign, a blissful period of time depicted in The Mariner’s Wife, Tolkien’s only nearly complete tale of the Second Age. This would naturally segue into the story of Meneldur’s son, Tar-Aldarion: under whose reign the kingdom became an empire, with fleets of ships (often personally piloted by Aldarion) constantly departing to Middle-earth’s shores, setting up outposts and colonies there. His rule was not tyrannical or cruel, but his restlessness was an omen of worse to come. And after his death, his colonists became hostile to the indigenous peoples they encountered, and hurt the earth in their hunt for resources.

Numenor
The Druedain | theonering.net

Prior to Aldarion’s reign, a group of forest-dwelling Men known as the Drúedain had also lived in Númenor – but as the empire expanded and its people became more dissatisfied with the gifts they had been given, the Drúedain predicted the doom that would soon follow, and they abandoned the island over the next few centuries, returning to Middle-earth and disappearing from history for thousands of years: until the Third Age, when they would reappear as the Wild Men in Rohan and Gondor. In them, I see the perfect viewpoint characters for Amazon’s series, as they embody the down-to-earth, hobbit-like qualities of Tolkien’s most iconic heroes.

By this point, war was raging between the Elves and the dark lord Sauron on the mainland – though this would not have initially affected Númenor had its colonies in Middle-earth not become so crucial to the kingdom. Tar-Minastir and his successors sent forces across the sea to aid the Elves in battle, provoking Sauron to turn the full force of his hatred towards the island. He was able to bring at least three Númenórean lords into his service using Rings of Power, and they became terrible Ringwraiths. But even on the island itself, the shadow of Sauron inspired darkness in the hearts of Men: kings became as greedy for life as they were for power and wealth, and their fear of death led some to resent the immortal Elves or speak openly against them. Elven ships stopped coming from Valinor. Those who still held the Elves in reverence were called the Faithful.

Upon the death of Tar-Palantir, the last good and wise king, his daughter Tar-Míriel’s throne was quickly usurped by her cousin, a reckless and easily corruptible man named Ar-Pharazôn. He rejected the Elves and their help entirely, and concentrated his power solely on maintaining the empire he had stolen. In his arrogance, he sent a great armada to Middle-earth to capture Sauron, and the dark lord willingly surrendered himself up to the king, gaining free passage into Ar-Pharazôn’s court – and eventually an enviable position as his most trusted counsellor and right-hand man. Seduced by Sauron’s charismatic malice, Ar-Pharazôn ran his empire as the dark lord saw fit: inciting violence and panic among his citizens (remind you of anybody else?), and instituting a new religion based around the ancient evil of Morgoth, for whose temple Sauron demanded a steady flow of human sacrifices. These victims were often political prisoners from among the Faithful, Sauron’s chief enemies.

As Ar-Pharazôn’s life neared its natural end (and lifespans were steadily diminishing in Númenor, as the Valar slowly retracted their gifts), the king turned to Sauron in desperation, demanding a cure for death. Sauron, seizing his opportunity to kill two birds with one stone, instructed him to build a fleet of ships capable of sailing into the west – breaking the ban of the Valar – and storming paradise: for only in the uttermost west of Valinor could deathlessness be obtained. Ar-Pharazôn was too far gone to see through his lies and immediately started building his fleet: but the Faithful, led by Elendil of Andúnië, built their own in secret, preparing for the inevitable catastrophe.

In Second Age 3319, Ar-Pharazôn’s mighty fleet departed into the west, with the king himself joining his army on the perilous journey – while Sauron remained in his lofty temple, laughing at the ignorance of Men. Ar-Pharazôn reached Valinor and set foot in the undying lands of the gods, but the Valar, themselves afraid of the king’s power, prayed to the One Above All, Eru, to help them in that hour…and, well, they got more than they bargained for. Not only were Ar-Pharazôn and his army crushed beneath a mountain, but Númenor itself was unmade, and the island descended into the abyss. Most of the population died, and the few that survived were the Faithful, escaping in their own ships back to Middle-earth. Eru also took the extra measure of reshaping the earth into a globe so that mortals could never again reach Valinor, but would instead spend their days sailing west in a never-ending, self-destructive search for paradise.

Downfall of Numenor
Downfall of Numenor | silmarillionseries.com

And as for Sauron, who was caught up in the downfall…he died so hard that, even though his soul escaped intact, he was never again able to appear beautiful to Men or Elves. His greatest weapons, which had been seduction and deception, now became brute strength and violence. But that didn’t stop him from pursuing Elendil and the Faithful back to Middle-earth and continuing the fight against their new “kingdoms in exile” all the way into the Third Age, when Aragorn – Elendil’s last legitimate heir – was instrumental in his ultimate defeat.

And there you have it. The moral of this story is that (a) imperialism is evil, obviously, and that (b) you should be content with what you have – because the gods can take it away, and they will likely do some planetary redecorating while they’re at it.

But what do you think? Share your own thoughts, theories, and opinions, in the comments below!

1st Synopsis For “The Lord Of The Rings” Revealed!

TheOneRing.net has long served a dual function as the largest online community of J.R.R. Tolkien fans and a base of fandom research into any and every adaptation of The Lord Of The Rings: in the late  1990’s and early 2000’s, a vast network of spies frequently wrote in to the site from the Peter Jackson trilogy’s set with spy reports that gave fans a first taste of what Jackson was concocting down in New Zealand, preparing them for many of the trilogy’s biggest and most controversial moments; both perfect page-to-screen translations and drastic (and often controversial) divergences from the text. TheOneRing.net developed a good reputation for their work, and eventually became a semi-official channel for New Line Cinema, tirelessly relaying new information to the fans while providing necessary feedback to the studio. The Lord Of The Rings trilogy undeniably benefited from that unprecedented level of communication between the filmmakers and their audiences.

The Lord Of The Rings
empireonline.com

These days, TheOneRing.net (or TORN, for short) does not yet enjoy the privilege of being able to officially coordinate with Amazon Prime Studios regarding their upcoming adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s work – and thus, I’ve had to take many of their recent reports with a grain of salt. But last night, after a lot of hinting and teasing, TORN proved that they are indeed back in the game, having gotten their hands on the very first official synopsis for Amazon Prime’s The Lord Of The Rings series. IGN was later able to confirm its authenticity with their own sources, and I myself am fairly confident this is the real deal. It doesn’t read like a fake, which would likely have thrown in some hyperbolic details about what to expect, just to cause chaos and commotion in the fandom.

Rather, the synopsis merely goes over much of what we already knew about the series, adding a little bit of context for general audiences and some intriguing sentences that caught my eye. Let’s break it down:

“Amazon Studios’ forthcoming series brings to screens for the very first time the heroic legends of the fabled Second Age of Middle-earth’s history. This epic drama is set thousands of years before J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit and The Lord Of The Rings, and will take viewers back to an era in which great powers were forged, kingdoms rose to glory and fell to ruin, unlikely heroes were tested, hope hung by the finest of threads, and the greatest villain that ever flowed from Tolkien’s pen threatened to cover all the world in darkness. Beginning in a time of relative peace, the series follows an ensemble cast of characters, both familiar and new, as they confront the long-feared re-emergence of evil to Middle-earth. From the darkest depths of the Misty Mountains, to the majestic forests of the elf-capital of Lindon, to the breathtaking island kingdom of Númenor, to the furthest reaches of the map, these kingdoms and characters will carve out legacies that live on long after they are gone.”

The Lord Of The Rings
denofgeek.com

Confirmation, if you needed it, that the series is in fact set in the Second Age of Middle-earth (which you can learn more about here on my blog), and that the title “The Lord Of The Rings” is still deliberately misleading. This period of time is bound to be darker and more brutal than the era of The Lord Of The Rings proper, though Amazon is setting the stage for a story with similar themes and characters. Some of the very same characters will, in fact, cross over…but more importantly, Amazon is promising us “unlikely heroes”, a character archetype that is pivotal to the enduring success of The Lord Of The Rings and sorely lacking from the myths of Middle-earth’s earlier history.

During TORN’s livestream, guest star Molly Knox Ostertag (the host of last year’s popular Tolkientober fan-art challenge) tackled this subject quite eloquently, explaining that the “little guy” is what makes Tolkien’s work so approachable even after so many decades: because we can all relate to small, ordinary people like Frodo, Bilbo, and Sam, whose small, ordinary acts of kindness end up saving the world. Readers need to have an emotional investment in a character or a relationship in order to keep reading, and hobbits are so down-to-earth, so humble and so unassuming, that it’s hard not to get invested in them and their journeys through Middle-earth. The Silmarillion, Tolkien’s posthumously-published compendium of First Age myths, was initially unpopular with fans because it lacked hobbits or any hobbit analogues that could keep readers grounded amidst all the epic battles, tragic romances, and stories of somber heroes doomed to die gruesomely. The Second Age has that problem too, which is what Molly Ostertag noted: unless we have a “little guy” to get attached to, where’s the emotional investment? That’s why the mention of “unlikely heroes” makes me hopeful this issue will be remedied without having to bring in hobbits, who don’t really exist yet in the Second Age, at least not as we know them.

With the scope of this series sprawling across the entire map of Middle-earth and even beyond it, the presence of small characters and microcosmic stories is that much more essential. But speaking of what lies beyond the map, let’s touch on that for a moment – the synopsis does confirm that we’ll explore regions of Middle-earth that have never been glimpsed in any previous Tolkien adaptation, like Númenor and Lindon. The “furthest reaches of the map”, however, could very well refer to the mysterious lands east and south of Mordor. And who better to explore these lands and their unique cultures than the two Blue Wizards, who (according to Tolkien’s last writings on the subject) arrived in Middle-earth’s uncharted east during the Second Age, and there proved to be pivotal in the war against Sauron? When this topic came up on the livestream, Molly Ostertag suggested that the Blue Wizards should be depicted as a lesbian couple – yes, yes to all of that. I’ve long felt that one or both of the Blue Wizards should be a woman of color, and the thought of two queer women of color using magic in Middle-earth is indescribably empowering.

The synopsis ends by talking about “legacies” that will live on long after our main characters are dead and gone, implying to me that some of the main cast might revolve periodically throughout the course of the series. This wouldn’t surprise me: the Second Age spans over three-thousand years, and even the longest-lived humans of that era couldn’t survive that long if they tried (and trust me, they did). But while it could be an interesting and shocking gimmick for a few seasons, it could also prevent audiences from ever becoming attached to any season’s human cast – as the immortal Elves would likely be the only constants from one season to another in that case. Compressing the timeline into a few hundred years isn’t ideal either, though, so I suppose we’ll have to wait and see what Amazon has in mind.

The Lord Of The Rings
The War Of The Last Alliance | winteriscoming.net

That’s pretty much all there is to say about The Lord Of The Rings‘ synopsis, but there is one last thing I want to add. Near the end of TORN’s livestream last night, host Justin posed a thought-provoking question to each of the guests: what they wanted to see or hear next from the series? There were a lot of good answers, but I knew right away what my answer would have been, if I were asked.

I want TheOneRing.net to be as intimately involved with the Amazon series’ production as they were with Jackson’s trilogy. Although the level of coordination between TORN and New Line Cinema was unprecedented, it was beautiful because of how it allowed our fandom a firsthand experience of the adaptation of our favorite story and the ability to observe the filmmaking process up close, and gave the studio a trusted outlet through which to speak directly to fans. On that fateful night that Return Of The King pulled off a clean sweep in thirteen Oscars categories, Peter Jackson and his crew even opted out of the New Line Oscar Party and attended TORN’s fan-event instead. These days, it’s traditional for studios to give all their biggest scoops and press releases to the major Hollywood trades, allowing news to spread more quickly to a wider audience, but taking a step back from fans in so doing. The creation of a link between Amazon and TORN would go a long way to making all fans feel a lot more welcome…while allowing Amazon a window into the Tolkien community that can help them gage what fans want to see.

So what do you think? Does The Lord Of The Rings‘ synopsis pique your interest, or leave you underwhelmed? Do you want to see Amazon honor those old bonds of fellowship with TORN? Share your own thoughts, theories, and opinions, in the comments below!

What Brought The Tolkien Community Joy In 2020

2020 was nothing if not a hellish year that tested us in ways we hadn’t even thought possible back in 2019. But now, with the year finally ending and a new one about to begin, I thought it would be nice to look back and find some things that brought us in the Tolkien community just a little bit of joy and normality amidst all the chaos and confusion. Whether it was casting announcements for the upcoming Amazon series, or familiar faces reuniting for a good cause, Tolkien fans found a respite from the year’s awfulness in small, simple, pleasures that gave us each a smile and a laugh, and/or kept us at least partially sane throughout 2020.

Tolkien
insider.com

I’ve tried to be comprehensive, but it’s been a long year, and I have forgotten much that I thought I knew. So if I’ve missed something important, be sure to tell me and I’ll happily correct my error! As I am just one Tolkien fan in a very big and very diverse fandom, these are merely my personal experiences. With that out of the way, let’s revisit some of the year’s few joyous Tolkienesque highlights.

As soon as lockdown orders went into place around the world, many of us immediately took the opportunity to crack open our old copies of J.R.R. Tolkien’s books, with the intention of returning to Middle-earth for some much-needed comfort. But actor and director Andy Serkis went further than the rest of us would or even could, reading the entirety of The Hobbit aloud in a hyped-up livestream event with the full permission of HarperCollins (for whom he then recorded a new audiobook of The Hobbit). The 12-hour long livestream was hugely successful – raising more than £283,000 for charity – and hugely satisfying for Tolkien fans, as Serkis was able to trot out his iconic Gollum voice during the character’s single, memorable sequence in the book. I myself have read The Hobbit, The Lord Of The Rings, The Silmarillion, and assorted bits of Unfinished Tales aloud to family members even prior to this quarantine, and can confirm that, while taxing on the vocal cords, it’s a truly delightful experience to partake in (I personally like to do different voices and accents for all the characters, not just the ones I’m especially good at, but, well, I’m not claiming to be a better reader-alouder than Andy Serkis…or am I?)

Tolkien
Andy Serkis as Gollum | lotr.fandom.com

The rest of us social distancing stay-at-homes, unable to monetize our reading experience in quite the same way, took to social media to share the joys of Middle-earth for free with people we don’t know and who probably don’t want to have their timelines continually clogged by abnormally long Twitter threads documenting our reactions to literally every single thing in each of the books and movies. Some of us did monetize our experiences, and were forced to distort Howard Shore’s beautiful score to avoid copyright infringement. There were too many of these to count, but a few I particularly enjoyed included a first-time viewer’s twelve-part reaction to The Lord Of The Rings trilogy, artist and animator Noelle Stevenson live-tweeting the movies while enjoying a lembas bread snack, and a live-tweet of Ralph Bakshi’s cult classic The Lord Of The Rings adaptation that is perfect viewing once you hit that stage of quarantine where days are blurring together and nothing makes sense anymore, least of all reality, so you might as well just roll with the fact that, yes, Aragorn is rocking that mini-skirt.

Not wanting to let Andy Serkis have all the fun, almost the entire main cast of Peter Jackson’s The Lord Of The Rings reunited for a livestreamed event hosted by actor and comedian Josh Gad, and attended by Jackson himself as well as the trilogy’s lead screenwriter, Philippa Boyens. It was, as they say in The Shire, a party of special magnificence: gathering on their individual computer screens, the Fellowship and more teamed up for trivia, re-enactments of famous scenes, and fond reminiscences. It was all too brief, but by that point we were growing used to brief and fleeting joys, and it felt refreshingly fun. Hearing Sean Astin recite his empowering speech from the end of The Two Towers also provided us with an excuse for a good old-fashioned ugly cry, which was sweet of him.

Tolkien
Lord Of The Rings On Prime cast | newshub.co.nz

But even as the old cast was re-assembling, a new cast was coming together in New Zealand – the one corner of the world that was, for the most part, unaffected by COVID-19. Two huge casting announcements for the upcoming Amazon Prime adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s work bookended this strange year; the first in January, prior to the pandemic, and the second earlier this very month. We welcomed a number of diverse and exciting actors to Middle-earth, such as Nazanin Boniadi, Sophia Nomvete, Morfydd Clark, Peter Mullan, and Lenny Henry, and we debated endlessly about who they could be playing, here on this very blog and on fan-forums everywhere (speaking of which, the homepage of TheOneRing.com is active again as of this month, after several years). Almost a year into production on the first season, and we still don’t actually know! We’re not even sure if this is the full cast yet, or if more are still to come.

But with production on the season’s two-part pilot apparently complete and director J.A. Bayona having just departed New Zealand, it does appear that production is now underway on the rest of the season after a number of delays due to COVID that forced the entire series to halt filming throughout the spring and summer. Amazon Prime has been keeping this whole project unusually secretive, so much so that we still don’t even have an official title (which, let me tell you, is getting on my nerves). We know it takes place in the Second Age, we know a little bit about the behind-the-scenes crew, and…that’s it, mostly. In the absence of concrete information, rumors have spread like wildfire and driven some pretty controversial fandom discourse (though it gave me a chance to share my knowledge of The Mariner’s Wife with the world, so I’m not entirely unhappy about that). Thankfully, a new YouTube channel named Fellowship Of Fans has been keeping us up to date with consistently reliable news from the set, and I highly recommend you subscribe now so you don’t miss a thing.

One can hope, however, that we’ll learn more official details sooner rather than later – especially with the Tolkien Estate having announced earlier this year that a new collection of previously unpublished writings by J.R.R. Tolkien is coming in 2021, which will provide new insight into a wide variety of subjects, including the Second Age of Middle-earth, something they wryly note will be “Of particular note, given the impending Amazon series”. How much of what’s in this book, titled The Nature Of Middle-earth, will actually be new is up for debate, but I’m extremely excited for it nonetheless.

Tolkien
Tolkientober artwork by me

But the greatest Tolkien-related joy of 2020 (and the one in which I participated the most eagerly) has to have been the Tolkientober event: a month-long art challenge organized by Noelle Stevenson’s wife, artist and animator Molly Knox Ostertag – who, incidentally, was also recently awarded a Forbes 30 Under 30 honor. Tolkientober brought us together through the inclusive power of art, and allowed us a sneak peek of some of the next generation’s great Tolkien artists. I don’t claim to be one of those, but I did have a lot of fun sharing my works with the Tolkien community on Twitter, and it helped me rediscover my passion for drawing and sketching: something I had put aside pre-pandemic to focus on writing. Tolkientober, a casual, judgement-free, noncompetitive event aimed at spreading good vibes around the internet, taught me how to balance my talents better and renewed my confidence in my art, and for that I will always be thankful.

But enough about me. What I want to know is what your favorite moments were: so if my list is any way incomplete, share your own thoughts in the comments below and tell me about your experience as a Tolkien fan in 2020 – see you all in the new year!

A Last Goodbye To Tolkien Creatives We Lost In 2020

It’s done. Whether you’re a Tolkien fan or not, I think we can all breath a sigh of relief now that 2020 is finally over, bringing an end to 366 straight days of what felt like never-ending chaos. Sadly, the first dawn of 2021 won’t magically heal the pain and hardship we’ve all endured, nor will it bring back the many close friends, family members, and loved ones we’ve lost. But it can start us on a path towards a better future for all of us, and I hope and pray that, if 2020 was akin to the perilous wreck of Mount Doom, than 2021 will be at least a little closer to the Fields of Cormallen, when our war-hardened heroes “laughed and wept”, and a minstrel carried them through song and “sweet words” to “regions where pain and delight flow together and tears are the very wine of blessedness”.

Tolkien
denofgeek.com

Although I mostly just cover movies on this blog, I wanted to use this special day to give back to the incredible fan community centered around the works of J.R.R. Tolkien, by commemorating some of the Tolkien community’s greatest figures who passed on in the last year, and the incredible, unforgettable legacies they’ve left behind. This brief list is by no means complete or comprehensive, but know that if I have forgotten any greatly significant name, it is an error of my own ignorance that I will happily correct.

Orson Bean: July 22, 1928 – February 7, 2020

Tolkien actor Orson Bean
Orson Bean | nytimes.com

The Tolkien fandom was blessed to have Orson Bean lend his vocal talents not once, but twice, to the world of Middle-earth – first voicing Bilbo Baggins in the 1977 Rankin/Bass animated adaptation of The Hobbit, before later taking on the role of Bilbo’s nephew, Frodo Baggins, in the studio’s adaptation of The Return Of The King (a valiant, if ultimately unsuccessful, attempt to conclude the animated epic saga started in Ralph Bakshi’s The Lord Of The Rings, which only covered the first half of J.R.R. Tolkien’s novel). Bean began his long career in Hollywood as a television comedian, hosting the Basin Street musical radio program in the early 50’s. His ambitions only momentarily halted by an attempt to blacklist him for dating a Communist Party member, Bean continued to appear in films, TV, and theatre well into his 80’s, with guest spots on some of the past decade’s biggest sitcoms and reality TV programs.

Ian Holm: 12 September, 1931 – 19 June, 2020

Tolkien actor Ian Holm
Sir Ian Holm | theguardian.com

Similarly to Bean, the great Sir Ian Holm will be recognized fondly by Tolkien fans for both his vocal performance as Frodo Baggins in the beloved 1981 BBC Radio adaptation of The Lord Of The Rings, and for his iconic portrayal of Bilbo Baggins – a role he solidified in live-action throughout Peter Jackson’s The Lord Of The Rings trilogy and in two brief but memorable appearances bookending Jackson’s The Hobbit trilogy. His Bilbo is widely regarded as the definitive Bilbo: manic, wild-haired, and charmingly quirky (much of that quirkiness deriving from Holm’s talent for improvisation) – but with a warmth and quiet dignity that Holm made sure to put front and center at all times. Bilbo was Holm’s final role as well as one of his most legendary, but the Tony and BAFTA-Award winning actor received just as much praise for his performances in Alien, Brazil, The Fifth Element, and Chariots Of Fire (for which he received an Academy Award nomination), as well as for his three separate takes on Napoleon Bonaparte – the best by far being in the 1981 cult classic Time Bandits.

Andrew Jack: 28 January, 1942 – 31 March, 2020

Tolkien dialect coach Andrew Jack
Sir Christopher Lee with Andrew Jack | reddit.com

Behind every great movie, there is an entire army of great crewmembers putting painstaking effort into every little detail that has to be seen or conveyed somehow onscreen. Andrew Jack, the dialect coach for Peter Jackson’s The Lord Of The Rings trilogy, was one of those tireless soldiers, crafting the enchantingly unique accents of Middle-earth before passing on that talent (as well as an extensive knowledge of Elvish languages) to the actors themselves. That level of detail is part of what makes Jackson’s trilogy stand out, as one of the first fantasy adaptations to take the source material seriously and attempt to build something that was grounded in reality, rather than poking fun at itself and the entire genre. Jack continued working as a dialect coach, while also making a brief but notable onscreen appearance as the character of Caluan Ematt in The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi. He passed away due to COVID-19 while working on Matt Reeves’ The Batman.

Barbara Remington: 23 June, 1929 – 23 January, 2020

Tolkien artist Barbara Remington
Barbara Remington | accessnepa.com

Tolkien fandom has always had a strong artistic component – ever since J.R.R. himself, who sketched and painted extensively. And American artist Barbara Remington deserves to be remembered alongside the greats such as Alan Lee, John Howe, and Ted Nasmith: her beautiful cover artwork for Ballantine Books’ first paperback editions of both The Hobbit and The Lord Of The Rings quickly became notorious, largely because of how distanced it was from the source material. Remington’s swirling, brightly-colored designs included fantastical flora and fauna such as emus, lions, and a massive pink fruit tree. Tolkien himself was very confused by the art, but, as Remington herself later explained, the embarrassing blunder was due to her not being able to actually read the book before painting the artwork – once she did, she fell in love with the story and said that, not only would she have painted something entirely different if she could, but she might have felt too intimidated to even try due to the scope and significance of the books. Personally, I must admit I’ve warmed up to Remington’s characteristic psychedelic style, and am deeply sorry we may never see the collection of other unofficial artworks based on the books that she designed in her later life.

Christopher Tolkien: 21 November, 1924 – 16 January, 2020

Christopher Tolkien
Christopher Tolkien | cnn.com

If anyone on this earth lived and breathed Middle-earth, it was Christopher John Reul Tolkien, who dedicated almost his entire life to exploring the extent of his father’s fantasy world. Christopher grew up with the bedtime stories that would later blossom into The Hobbit, and spent much of his childhood and youth reading and critiquing his father’s manuscripts, assisting in the writing process of The Lord Of The Rings even while stationed in South Africa with the Royal Air Force during World War II. Many of the book’s most notable elements can be attributed to Christopher’s input: including the iconic surname of “Gamgee”, which J.R.R. himself wanted to change to the far less unique-sounding “Goodchild”. In 1973, upon being handed the reigns to his father’s literary legacy, Christopher determined to finally publish his father’s true masterwork, The Silmarillion: a collection of epic stories from the prehistory of Middle-earth that J.R.R. had left only partially-completed and hopelessly disorganized at the time of his death. The work took several years and exhaustive edits, but was completed for publication in 1977, and Christopher soon followed with an even longer and more ambitious series of books dedicated to recounting his father’s entire writing process: every scattered note, every rewrite, every idea scrapped and revisited. Unfinished Tales followed in 1980 and became an instant hit, allowing readers a chance to learn more about the Second Age of Middle-earth (which will be the setting for Amazon Prime’s upcoming adaptation). Christopher continued to publish books of this sort up until 2018, with the last of the three “Great Tales”. His harsh views on Jackson’s film trilogy caused quite a stir, but I feel he should be remembered most for his efforts to preserve and protect the legacy with which he was entrusted. For Christopher was a steward of Middle-earth who succeeded in his mission, and now that he has passed on, he has given us all the responsibility to follow in his footsteps and continue that stewardship as we move forward into a new era. And that may be an encouraging thought.

Take comfort in the things that we as a community have gained this year (about which I may write a separate post, so stay tuned), and in the knowledge that those whom we have lost will not be forgotten, but that their legacies will live on. Again, I apologize if anyone has been left off of this list that should have been included, but I ask you to please share that information in the comments. Stay safe and read Tolkien. Until next year, my friends.

10 Things Amazon’s “Lord Of The Rings” Should Never Do!

Yesterday I discussed the ten things that, in my opinion, Amazon Prime’s The Lord Of The Rings simply can’t do without: Blue Wizards, a cohesive tale of Galadriel and Celeborn, dark thematic material…these are the essential building blocks that Amazon can and should use to construct their unique take on Middle-earth. So how about the ten things that they should never do?

Well, before we get into the list, let me remind you all that Amazon’s series isn’t a straight-up adaptation of The Lord Of The Rings, the classic best-selling novel. Instead, it’s based on the tantalizing hints, references and scraps of unfinished stories about the Second Age of Middle-earth, a time period in the world’s history when Sauron, Dark Lord of Mordor, first rose to power with the help of the One Ring. That being said, Sauron isn’t the only thing you’ll find in this new adaptation that will be reminiscent of previous books, films and video games: characters like Galadriel, Elrond and Glorfindel will all presumably make appearances; locations like Rivendell, Mount Doom and Moria will be visited; events like the War of the Last Alliance and the forging of the Great Rings will be witnessed.

With that out of the way, let’s get to my list.

Lord Of The Rings Elves
lotr.fandom.com

10: Sorrowful Elves. It’s important to remember that the Second Age ends about three-thousand years prior to Frodo Baggins’ quest at the very end of the Third Age. A lot of stuff happens in between those two points – including the events that cause the Elves to begin their slow decline into sorrow and grief. At the start of the Second Age, however, we should see the Elves in their heyday: a happy, peaceful people with a flourishing culture, working to rebuild after the traumas of the First Age. That means characters like Elrond, best known for being grim and dour, are going to be cheerful, bright and optimistic in the Amazon series; wise, experienced leaders like Galadriel will still be learning, growing, and making mistakes; aged, brooding wise men like Círdan…well, he’ll still be an aged, brooding wise man, but the rest of them will be different. This doesn’t necessarily mean that they should be singing “tra-la-la-la-lally,” but at the same time it doesn’t necessarily mean that they shouldn’t be, either.

Lord Of The Rings The Hobbit
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9: A Reliance On CGI. I’m flexible on this issue: on the one hand, I think CGI is an essential element in the making of any fantasy world, and particularly Middle-earth, and I definitely wouldn’t discourage Amazon from using it in many of the same ways Peter Jackson did in his original trilogy (to build fantastical locations, digitally construct armies, certain creatures, etc); but on the other hand, I’d counsel them not to rely on special effects as much as Jackson did with The Hobbit films – practical effects, real location shoots, physical props and sets: for the most part, these can do the job just as well as green-screens and digital wizardry.

Lord Of The Rings Sauron
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8: A Fully Evil Sauron. It would be almost ridiculously easy to depict Second Age Sauron as a purely evil character, but that’s not the Sauron I want to see. Tolkien wrote that, in the beginning, Sauron was a perfectionist, whose plans for Middle-earth were ambitious, but no more evil than those of any reformer’s. He eventually grew to be a tyrant, thinking that Elves and Men could only flourish if they relinquished their own free will and submitted to his rule. Sound familiar? Yeah, that’s because the Sauron of the Second Age has more in common with the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s trickster god Loki (one of the most popular villains there is) than with the flaming eye of Peter Jackson’s films. Sauron, in fact, tried to do good – but his fate had been decided long before, when he turned away from the teachings of Eru and began learning from the devilish Morgoth, whose evil teachings Sauron implemented in his own plans. Amazon could do some amazing things with that storyline.

Lord Of The Rings Eru
comiccrossroads.fandom.com

7: Eru. Speaking of Eru, it’s about time I addressed him. In my last post, I said it would be a mistake to leave the Valar (Middle-earth’s pantheon of gods) out of the series, and I stand by that. But there’s one god I never want to see take a physical form in The Lord Of The Rings, and that’s Eru Ilúvatar, the One Above All. Eru is the highest, mightiest being in all of Tolkien’s legendarium – his song set all of history into motion; his plan is the divine plan, which cannot be undone by any design of Morgoth’s or Sauron’s; near the end of the Second Age, he intervenes one last time in the affairs of the world, reshaping the earth into a globe (it was flat previously), and sending the country of Númenor to the bottom of the sea. But though that means he’ll probably be brought up frequently in conversation, he shouldn’t ever be seen; at most, he should be a voice, but even that feels wrong. Eru is incomprehensible, on a plane of existence higher than any of our protagonists should be able to understand. Keep him offscreen. Leave the mystery intact.

Lord Of The Rings Middle-earth
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6: Whitewashing. The fantasy genre already has a problem with diversity – series like Game Of Thrones employ one or two people of color in lead roles over the course of several seasons, and the few exceptions to the rule, such as The Witcher, get viciously attacked by an online community that resorts to the same tired excuses for why people of color are simply unthinkable in worlds filled with dragons, elves, orcs and wizards: it’s unrealistic because fantasy worlds are Euro-centric and Europe obviously never had any racial diversity; race-bending white characters is wrong because people of color need to write their own stories if they want to see themselves represented in mainstream media (but whitewashing characters of color is somehow okay?); Tolkien came from a different time period, and the series should reflect that by not having people of color, who clearly didn’t exist forty years ago. The cast of Lord Of The Rings currently includes a handful of people of color – but only fifteen actors have been cast so far, and I hope to see the number increase as more come onboard the project. I want to see Amazon take advantage of the amazing opportunity they have, and use their platform to hire talent of many different ethnicities – not to mention genders, sexual orientations and ages.

Lord Of The Rings Gandalf
independent.co.uk

5: Gandalf. Gandalf the Grey, along with his partners Saruman and Radagast, were both sent to Middle-earth in the Third Age: to be the enemies of Sauron in that age, and that age alone. They didn’t witness any of the events of the Second Age, and they had never fought Sauron before the attack on Dol Guldur as depicted in The Hobbit; if they had, Gandalf would likely have been able to recognize the One Ring immediately, and Saruman might never have been deceived by Sauron’s lies. Having them arrive earlier in the timeline would be a very bad move – yet people continue to mistakenly assume that Gandalf is either going to be a major character, or a female lead, of the upcoming series. To avoid further confusion, I hope Amazon gives the series an official title soon that differentiates it from The Lord Of The Rings, which immediately brings to mind images of Gandalf and hobbits.

Lord Of The Rings Hobbit
thedailybeast.com

4: Hobbits. Allow me to clarify: hobbits did exist in the Second Age, even though they are only recorded in the Third Age and later. But these hobbits (a) dwelt only in Wilderland east of the Misty Mountains, and not in the Shire, and (b) had no impact on Middle-earth’s history at this time. Most importantly, there should be no interaction between Sauron and the hobbits: he, above all others, should never hear of them or even be aware that they exist. Why? Because the whole reason Frodo’s quest succeeds in The Lord Of The Rings is because Sauron (like Smaug before him) had never dealt with hobbits before. They were the unforeseen heroes of the Third Age, who “suddenly became, by no wish of their own, both important and renowned, and troubled the counsels of the Wise and Great.” So, Amazon: if you want to throw in some hobbits, put them in at the very end of the entire series, during the disaster of the Gladden Fields, when such an appearance might make sense. No sword-wielding hobbit heroics in the Second Age, please.

Lord Of The Rings Game Of Thrones
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3: Game Of Thrones. Now, I’m not totally opposed to the series being more mature than the adaptations we’ve seen before: Tolkien’s world definitely isn’t grimdark or gritty, but the Second Age is a time of decadence, vice, violence and horrific evils (including, but not limited to, hundreds upon thousands of human sacrifices). So when I say I don’t want The Lord Of The Rings to be Game Of Thrones, I’m not necessarily saying it shouldn’t include violence (I refer you back to the human sacrifices), sexuality, and/or mature themes. I’m saying it should never revel in these things or use them for shock value, as Game Of Thrones was often accused of doing. So no, I don’t want to see violence against women used to subvert expectations; I don’t want to see nudity used to make exposition-heavy dialogue “more interesting” or whatever the excuse was; I don’t want to see fan-favorite characters get brutally murdered just to prove a cynical point. Tolkien’s world is one where hope survives even against immeasurable odds, where light endures in the darkest situations, where heroes are…for the most part…heroic. George R.R. Martin’s world is bleak, pessimistic, and, at least in the TV series, there is no end to its cycle of death, defeat and petty power struggles. That’s not bad: it’s just not Tolkien.

Lord Of The Rings Peter Jackson
lotr.fandom.com

2: Incessant Callbacks. Often, a prequel to some successful film franchise (such as…oh I don’t know, The Hobbit) fails in part because it never tries to be its own thing: instead, with the help of callbacks, references and hints, it simply serves to remind viewers to go check out another, usually better, film or TV property that came before it. Using The Hobbit as an example: remember the really weird shout-out to Aragorn in The Battle Of The Five Armies that makes no sense, considering Aragorn was a ten year-old during the time of that film? Or how they refer to the recently drowned Master of Lake-town as being “half-way down the Anduin” when there’s no conceivable way he could ever have gotten there from the Lake of Esgaroth, as shown by their own maps? How about that bizarrely contrived scene where Legolas learns about Gimli sixty years before ever meeting him? These things serve no purpose in The Hobbit, except to remind us that, yes, we are still watching a prequel to The Lord Of The Rings, as hard as it is to believe. Amazon doesn’t need to make that mistake: focus on telling a good story first, then weave in some subtle foreshadowing or evocative parallels later (also, for the love of Eru, choose better callbacks: one reason why those in The Hobbit fail is because they’re calling back to the weirdest things – athelas? Peter Jackson’s carrot-eating cameo? Why were these things necessary?)

Lord Of The Rings
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1: Strictly Movie Canon. We know that Amazon wants to maintain some level of continuity with the classic Peter Jackson trilogy, and at one point they even approached Jackson – either for his help as a consultant, or simply for his blessing. It makes sense: Jackson defined Middle-earth with his award-winning, critically-acclaimed, hugely successful three-film magnum opus. He and his team are widely viewed as experts when it comes to worldbuilding of any kind. But there’s no need for Amazon to feel beholden to his specific vision of Middle-earth: while his is certainly the most iconic, it wasn’t the first, not will it be the last. Amazon should feel free to branch out, to use the books more frequently as source material than the movie, and along the way to establish their own unique take on Tolkien’s world. Let’s not forget: Peter Jackson has broken his own canon on occasion – Bilbo’s encounter with Gollum in the prologue of The Fellowship Of The Ring is completely different to the same scene in An Unexpected Journey: different actor, different scenery, set design, clothing design, everything. Amazon should be able to do that too.

So what do you think of my list? Do you disagree with my picks (it’s worth remembering that I’m a pretty positive person, so it was hard for me to even think of ten things I didn’t want to see)? Share your own thoughts, theories and opinions in the comments below!

“The Lord Of The Rings” Casts Maxim Baldry!

Last night, we learned that Amazon Prime’s The Lord Of The Rings has added one new actor to its steadily growing cast: the secretive streaming series is a slow burn, and Tolkien fans are beginning to get impatient with the unpredictable trickle of news – or, at least, I am. So far, we’ve got three actors (none of whom have actually been confirmed by Amazon Prime), a filming location and date, a general idea of setting, and a long list of behind-the-scenes crew, including directors, writers, costume designers, consultants, etc. But as for the story that’s going to be told, there are only vague hints and guesses; and, most frustratingly, we still have no actual title – not even a working title – for the series.

The newest member of the cast is supposedly Maxim Baldry, a young English actor best known for his role in the HBO semi-dystopian epic Years And Years. Baldry has also landed a role in the next season of Dr. Who. So he’s not a complete unknown, as first castmember Markella Kavenagh was, but he’s also not a big-name like Will Poulter (and, let’s be frank, Poulter isn’t really a big-name). We don’t have any idea who Baldry is playing, though the original article states his role will be “significant” – that could honestly be anybody, but let’s take a guess as to which Tolkien character he could be portraying on the big screen.

"The Lord Of The Rings" Casts Maxim Baldry! 1
wyldemag.com

Baldry has facial features that immediately scream elf: defined cheekbones, luscious locks, even pointy ears. Based off the clips I could find of him in interviews and onscreen, he is soft-spoken, with a very distinct English accent. There are several Elven characters (that we know of) who he could be playing – Celebrimbor, the craftsman who designed the Rings of Power, is one of my favorite suggestions: Baldry looks like he could bring a sensitivity and coolness to the role. Readers of the books will know that Celebrimbor was an ill-fated but well-intentioned leader who was deceived by the Dark Lord, Sauron.

But that got me thinking: what if – and hear me out – what if Baldry is playing Sauron? Fans of Peter Jackson’s iconic trilogy only know Sauron as an armored giant or a massive floating eyeball, but Tolkien’s novels and unpublished writings lay out a great deal of backstory for the character, who isn’t quite the clear-cut “evil bad guy” that Tolkien’s detractors seem to think he is: in the Second Age, when this series takes place, Sauron is disguised under another name, that of Annatar, and another guise; that of a handsome, charismatic Elven lord. He seduced the Elves to their destruction, tempting them with gifts and good advice: he became a close confidante of Celebrimbor’s, and helped him to forge the Great Rings, before stealing the secrets of the Elf’s craft and designing his own ring, the One Ring. And though he quickly turned to evil to achieve his goals, Sauron did at least try, for a time, to put on a semblance of good intention, and in fact intended to reform Middle-earth and create there a paradise fit to rival the dwelling-place of the Gods: long story short, Tolkien’s Elves originally lived in a beautiful land called Valinor, from which they were mostly banished to Middle-earth by the gods, after a really nasty incident involving a whole bunch of bloodshed and death; then, after the end of the First Age, those Elves were offered the opportunity to repent for their crimes and return to Valinor, or stay in Middle-earth, as outcasts. Those who stayed were obviously not too pleased with the gods, which is why Annatar’s promises were so appealing – he played on their greed and their desire for vengeance, and offered them the chance of a lifetime. Baldry has that endearing charm that one would expect from Annatar/Sauron – not to mention the ability to plausibly pass as an Elf.

Then again, he could be someone entirely different. We have no idea, and we’re not likely to find out for some time yet. So, while we wait, leave your own thoughts, theories and opinions below!

Tolkien Trailer 2!

This movie is either going to be very dear to my heart, and will remain that way forever, or it will be something that I will regret seeing for the rest of my life. I know so much about J.R.R. Tolkien, the legendary author of The Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit, and posthumous author of The Silmarillion, that any attempt to translate his life to the big screen is bound to be met with some trepidation from me. There are just so many things that they could get wrong – plus, the first teaser for this movie did nothing to ease my fears, and in fact only made them worse.

So, it was with a heavy heart that I clicked on this trailer, after hearing of its release on The One Ring.net – I was terrified that I would be treated to more of those strangely animated fantasy-sequences from the first teaser, and more not-so-subtle hints at things in The Lord of the Rings.

I was more than pleasantly surprised.

The trailer immediately gets off to a good start, with Tolkien (Nicholas Hoult) speaking to the love of his life, Edith Bratt (Lily Collins). He makes a casual statement about how he has always been fascinated by languages, and how he has created his own, and crafted stories around them. Edith is startled, and asks him to tell her a story.

This scene is perfect, and had me wondering if I could possibly be in for a surprise: the real J.R.R. Tolkien was indeed fascinated by languages, and became the world’s leading philologist in his time (philology, the study of languages, is an art that sadly died out with him). It is also true that Tolkien created the languages of Middle-earth before he had ever even conceived of the notion of hobbits, wizards, or the One Ring. Seeing that realized onscreen – and apparently made the focus of the film – is a true relief. Tolkien’s mastery of languages was noticeably absent from the first teaser, and was one of the many things I thought would be lost in translation here.

At 0:34, we get a shot from the first teaser: that odd dream-sequence animation with the rearing horse – that seems to be referencing the design of a Black Rider. Seeing this of course made me think that my hopes were dashed. However, that shot soon gives way to more familiar things: Tolkien as a young boy, play-fighting with friends – a scene that is dramatically followed by one of Tolkien, now a young man, on the all-too-real battlefields of the First World War. It is a striking contrast. We see him lighting a match in the trenches, which fades into another shot of him, as a boy, lighting a candle inside a very ornate lamp that casts beautiful images of eagles and horses on the walls of his room.

Then, at 0:54, we see the T.C.B.S (or, for those unversed in Tolkien lore, the Tea Club & Barrovian Society: that is, Tolkien and his three good friends, Rob Gilson, Geoffrey Bache Smith, and Christopher Wiseman). These young men were all deeply interested in classical arts like poetry and music – we see them at one of their councils, discussing these very matters.

After that, we see Edith and J.R.R. in a wooded area – not, I think, the hemlock grove of legend, as they both seem pretty young in this scene. There are various romantic scenes (Edith and Tolkien with their hands intertwined, or kissing, etc). These then fade to black, and are replaced by a scene heralding the outbreak of the First World War.

This scene is chilling, though its significance is somewhat diminished since we have just seen the War a little earlier in the trailer. But be that as it may, seeing Tolkien in his military uniform, or him and his friends posing for a photograph before they are sent off to the front – it is certainly heartbreaking. No spoilers, but the tragedies that are about to befall this young man are so bitter and painful that I imagine I’ll be crying in the theater.

What follows is the most beautiful scene in the trailer: Edith Bratt dancing for Tolkien in the hemlock grove at Roos in Yorkshire. Here, Tolkien found in Edith the inspiration for the story that is at the heart of all his works: that of Beren and Lúthien. Their love story is one of tragedy and great loss, but also a bittersweet joy that pierces the heart: it is, as Tolkien says in the trailer, a “magic beyond anything anyone’s ever felt before”. The story of Beren and Lúthien mirrors that of Tolkien and Edith, so much so that those names are inscribed on the couple’s shared gravestone.

At 1:44, we see a literal fire-breathing dragon – I don’t even know what to say about that, but I’ll acknowledge that it looks better than the fantasy horses and riders from the first teaser.

Additional touching moments include seeing Tolkien playing rugby, and Edith coming to visit him in the hospital where he was sick with trench fever. The trailer concludes with a haunting image of a man (possibly Tolkien himself, or something in a fantasy sequence) walking onto a fiery field of war.

And as the screen fades to black and promises me that Tolkien will be “Coming Soon”, I am left wondering: how is it that I actually liked this? I got goosebumps at all the right moments, I was entranced by the visuals, the actors seem perfect in their roles (even Nicholas Hoult), and the overall tone is spot-on. I think I may end up liking this movie after all, and I am quite happy about that.

Coming soon…

It can’t come soon enough.

Trailer Rating: 10/10