“The Rings Of Power” – Introducing Galadriel


So we’ve all seen the first teaser trailer for Amazon’s The Rings Of Power, right? I mean, it was the fourth most-viewed trailer in its first twenty-four hours of release after the first trailer for Spider-Man: No Way Home and the first and last trailers for Avengers: Endgame, so I’m just gonna assume we’ve all seen it by this point. I’m also gonna assume that a fair number of the record-breaking 257 million views on that Rings Of Power teaser came from people who aren’t necessarily familiar with the characters, events, and locations being portrayed in this prequel to The Lord Of The Rings.

Rings Of Power
Galadriel | polygon.com

And that’s totally okay, by the way. I won’t be asking for your signatures in Tengwar script to prove that you’re a “true fan”, because frankly, even if I did, I (*pause for dramatic effect*) don’t know how to read or write Tengwar myself! Heck, I might as well tell you now, I only know, like, ten or fifteen Elvish words in total and virtually none of the grammar that’s supposed to go in between.

Okay, so maybe not the wisest thing to admit while simultaneously trying to position myself as a reliable source of information on the deep lore of J.R.R Tolkien’s legendarium, but (a) my point is that this can be an intimidating fandom but it really doesn’t matter to me whether you’ve read The Lord Of The Rings and its appendices twenty times, or whether you’ve never read a word of Tolkien in your entire life but were intrigued by something in the teaser trailer for The Rings Of Power, because I try to make my content accessible to everyone, and also (b) I actually have read the books and appendices more than twenty times, so please trust me! I absorbed the lore better than I did the languages, I swear.

To prove it, today we’re going to be diving into the nebulous and often contradictory lore surrounding one of the most enigmatic characters in all of Tolkien’s works, and the rumored protagonist of The Rings Of Power – the Lady Galadriel. The marketing for Amazon’s series makes it clear that Morfydd Clark’s Galadriel is, if nothing else, the most competitive of several candidates vying for top-billing in a large ensemble cast rounded out by Robert Aramayo’s Elrond, Maxim Baldry’s Isildur, and Markella Kavenagh’s Elanor “Nori” Brandyfoot (each of these characters warrants their own introductory post in good time, but I wanted to start with Galadriel because she just so happens to be my favorite character in Tolkien’s legendarium).

And despite how difficult it is to piece together a clear account of her life from J.R.R. Tolkien’s writings on the subject, Galadriel is the obvious choice to lead. Because if The Rings Of Power, a prequel distanced from the events of The Lord Of The Rings by a span of over three-thousand years, is going to be commercially successful, it needs to provide fans of The Lord Of The Rings (the books and the films) with something they can grab hold of that makes them feel safe and comfortable in this unfamiliar era of Middle-earth’s history.

And amidst all the characters of that era whose names and great deeds had faded into legend by the time of The Lord Of The Rings, characters like Isildur and Elendil and Gil-galad, there is one who stands out from the rest – one whose life-story spans the entirety of Middle-earth’s recorded history, from the literal beginning of time to the very last date etched in the Tale of Years. And that is Galadriel.

Galadriel is approximately 8372 years old by the time of The Lord Of The Rings – technically making her the second-oldest Elf in Middle-earth (at least that we know of) after Círdan the Shipwright, who is somewhere between 10741 to 11364 years old. Characters like Treebeard and Tom Bombadil are significantly older than both of them, though by an indeterminate margin (Treebeard is estimated to be around 30000 years old by fans, while Tom claims to predate the first rivers and trees in Middle-earth, making him roughly 50000 to 60000 years old). But the advantage Galadriel has over all these other characters is that she actually…did stuff.

By that, I mean she’s integral to the story that The Rings Of Power plans to tell over the course of five or more seasons; the story of the Second Age of Middle-earth, beginning with the forging of the Rings of Power and concluding in the tumultuous War of the Last Alliance. I am aware that Círdan also participated in these events, to a slightly lesser extent than Galadriel, but he lacks the name recognition necessary for a protagonist in this case, as well as a clearly defined character arc. Galadriel possesses both.

And yet…there is one itty-bitty problem with Galadriel being the protagonist. You see, even after publishing The Lord Of The Rings, J.R.R. Tolkien couldn’t help but continue altering fundamental aspects of his characters’ backstories, and Galadriel was the victim of some pretty aggressive edits the author made near the end of his life, meaning there is no “canonical” version of her story for Amazon to adapt. Even the stray bits and pieces of Galadriel’s backstory provided in the pages of The Lord Of The Rings subtly contradict details in the book’s own appendices.

Before we go any further, I ought to note that Amazon has the rights to The Lord Of The Rings and its appendices (and The Hobbit), but Rings Of Power showrunners Patrick McKay and J.D. Payne have vehemently denied that their deal with the Tolkien Estate granted them access to the author’s posthumously published writings, including The Silmarillion and Unfinished Tales, which altogether contain the most complete version of Galadriel’s story. We do not know the truth of the matter just yet.

The Silmarillion is a history textbook covering the First Age and Second Age of Middle-earth in great detail and then kinda glossing over the events of the Third Age (the period of time in which The Hobbit and The Lord Of The Rings take place). J.R.R. Tolkien began writing it in the early 1910’s, and at one point intended to publish it alongside The Lord Of The Rings so that readers would understand the frequent references to in-universe historical events, legendary battles, and tales of ancient heroes. He never finished, leaving his youngest son Christopher with the daunting task of having to compile his notes into a workable narrative.

The published Silmarillion is still regarded as inherently less “canon” than The Lord Of The Rings because it wasn’t ever approved for publication by J.R.R. Tolkien himself and had to be heavily abridged, but the tale it tells of Galadriel is one that many fans – including myself – have fallen in love with and regard as canon because it’s the version of Galadriel’s story alluded to in The Lord Of The Rings, and the only one that makes any sense.

As for Unfinished Tales, the nature of the work (an anthology of stories Tolkien started, but never had the time or inclination to complete) means that it is inherently less cohesive than The Silmarillion, but it also contains a level of detail that The Silmarillion does not possess, and that makes it a rewarding read for anyone interested in the rich lore of Middle-earth. Some of the most well-known anecdotes about Galadriel’s life come from Unfinished Tales, and are fairly easy to superimpose onto the version of her story in The Silmarillion. Nonetheless, I will point out these instances as we proceed.

Rings Of Power
Galadriel | newsweek.com

Per The Silmarillion, Galadriel was born in the Undying Lands of Valinor at a time when the High Elves were still under the protection of Middle-earth’s gods. For the sake of simplification, we’re just going to pretend that time existed as a concept back when Galadriel was born, even though it…didn’t. Middle-earth didn’t have a sun or a moon back then, so there were no days or months or years, but there were these durations of time called Valian Years, which correspond to either nine or 144 of our solar years depending on which of Tolkien’s writings on the subject you regard as more “canon”, and as if that isn’t confusing enough you also have to factor in that the passage of time literally feels slower in Valinor, so 144 solar years might feel like just one solar year to a Valinorean, and…argh, I said we were just gonna pretend that time existed, and I’ve already failed!

Anyway…when Galadriel was born, there was no sun and moon, so the only natural light emanated from the stars (which were created by the goddess Varda), and from two trees planted by the gods in the middle of Valinor, which glowed brightly and bathed the Undying Lands in a warm, purifying light. All of the Elves touched by this light retained a kind of magical residue on their bodies that formed an aura, but Galadriel is the only Elf we know of whose hair, specifically, was believed to have caught this residue and became “lit with gold” as a result. Keep that in mind; it’ll come up again later.

The Silmarillion doesn’t have a whole lot to say regarding Galadriel’s early life in Valinor. Unfinished Tales, however, tells us that when she was still young, “she grew to be tall beyond the measure even of the women of the Noldor; she was strong of body, mind, and will, a match for both the loremasters and the athletes of the Eldar in the days of their youth”. The famous letter in which Tolkien described Galadriel as having once been “of Amazon disposition” is not included in either book, but I’m mentioning it here because The Rings Of Power appears to be extrapolating on that idea.

As she was the granddaughter of the High King Finwë by way of his second marriage, we can safely assume she lived in the capital city of Tirion-upon-Túna – a location that had never appeared in live-action until last year, when the first official image from The Rings Of Power revealed a Valinorean panorama including Tirion, the Two Trees, and an unidentified figure rumored to be Finrod, Galadriel’s eldest brother. They were beloved by their grandfather Finwë, but treated with contempt by Fëanor, Finwë’s eldest son and the only one born to his first wife, Míriel.

Fëanor didn’t approve of his father’s second marriage, and The Silmarillion assures us that, like, a whole bunch of High Elves felt the same way. Names? You’re asking for names? Uh…well, the narrator talked to at least seven people who were definitely not the sons of Fëanor wearing fedoras and fake mustaches. All joking aside, it’s a weird part of the book where it feels like the devoutly Catholic Tolkien really wants to draw some correlation between Finwë’s remarriage and Fëanor being a jerk, but he doesn’t quite manage it and then backtracks to add that it’s a good thing Finwë did have more children, because someone needed to keep Fëanor in check, and it sure as hell wasn’t gonna be any of his kids.

Needless to say, everyone in Valinor was pretty relieved when Fëanor decided to channel his pent-up frustration with his father into seemingly inoffensive pastimes like art and alchemy, but Finwë’s other children and grandchildren were especially happy because it meant that for the greater part of any given Valian Year Fëanor and his sons would be holed up in their forge, and nobody had to interact with them except at dinner parties, and on those occasions you just had to hope that Fëanor would be too busy showing off his new inventions for him to find time to pick on you. Sometimes he’d even invent something useful, like an alphabet, and then other times it would just be weird, like when he designed a bunch of creepy all-seeing orbs that could stare at you from across a continent.

Most people would choose to rest on their laurels after creating the alphabet, but Fëanor wanted to one-up himself and the gods at the same time, because what could possibly go wrong with a plan that involves potentially incurring the wrath of a pantheon of omnipotent deities on whom you and your people rely for literally everything, including protection from a Dark Lord who wants to turn you all into orcs for his nihilistic amusement?

Fast-forward a few Valian Years, and Fëanor emerges triumphant from his forge with three jewels called Silmarils (hence The Silmarillion). These jewels, these Silmarils, were imbued with some of the precious light of the Two Trees, making them eerily similar to NFTs in that they served no real purpose except to give the possessor (i.e. Fëanor) a false sense of ownership over something he did not create and which was already freely accessible to everyone in Valinor; the only difference being that the Silmarils actually turned out to be worth something in the end. In Unfinished Tales, it’s even suggested that the idea for the Silmarils came to Fëanor after studying Galadriel’s hair, and that he begged her three times for a sample to use in his experiments, but [she] would not give him even one hair”.

The gods decided to let Fëanor keep his NFTs as long as he shut up about the limitless potential of cryptocurrency, but the Dark Lord Morgoth was obsessed with the idea of taking them for himself (which should tell you something about the type of people who want to own NFTs), and he quickly realized that while Fëanor’s covetous attitude toward the Silmarils meant they were kept closely-guarded at all times, it also meant the Elf would walk blindly into any trap if he felt his Silmarils were threatened. Morgoth laid the groundwork for his trap by traveling among the Elves and regaling them with tales about the lands in Middle-earth they could rule if only the gods would allow them to leave Valinor.

Rings Of Power
Galadriel | tvinsider.com

It’s safe to assume that Galadriel was one of the Elves on whom Morgoth’s words made a strong impression. Because when the Dark Lord finally stole the Silmarils and fled to Middle-earth, leaving a trail of dead bodies (including poor old Finwë’s) for Fëanor to follow, Galadriel unexpectedly joined Fëanor in calling for a man-hunt to find the Dark Lord and bring him to justice. She didn’t particularly care about reclaiming the Silmarils, but “she yearned to see the wide unguarded lands and to rule there a realm at her own will”, in stark contrast to her father Finarfin and brother Orodreth, who “spoke softly” in an effort to cool Fëanor’s hot temper, and to her brother Finrod, who hated Fëanor’s guts and made no secret of it.

Something that nobody seems to have considered while arguing over whether or not to leave Valinor was whether or not they could leave Valinor. No one had ever tried before. The Undying Lands were separated from Middle-earth by a wide ocean at the time, and the only land-bridge connecting the two continents lay somewhere in the uttermost north. So for a while, everybody just kinda walked aimlessly along the beach while they waited for somebody at the front of the line to settle on a direction. The House of Finarfin, including Finrod, is said to have been at the rear – “and often they looked behind them to see [Tirion].

It would seem out-of-character for Galadriel to be one of those glancing over her shoulder at the home she was about to leave behind, considering how eager she was to leave, but it would probably make even less sense for her to be amongst Fëanor’s folk at the front of the line; the reason being that Fëanor actually had a destination in mind – Alqualondë, the coastal port-city of the Sea-elves, Galadriel’s family on her mother’s side. He had assumed the Sea-elves would just give him all of their ships for free (reasonable dude, Fëanor), and was stunned speechless when they essentially told him to bugger off. So he killed them and took their ships by force.

The Elves who arrived late to the battle didn’t know what the hell was going on, and just started stabbing people randomly, turning the harbor of Alqualondë into a bloodbath. The Silmarillion simply never tells us whether Galadriel, Finrod, and Finarfin took part in this “Kinslaying”, and avoids implicating any of them in the atrocity at all – an imperfect solution on Christopher Tolkien’s part to a problem that J.R.R. Tolkien appears to have encountered every time he rewrote Galadriel’s story and reached this pivotal moment; how to get Galadriel to Middle-earth with only a medium-sized blemish on her reputation for goodness?

A manuscript published in the Unfinished Tales tells us that Galadriel indeed took part in the Kinslaying, but “fought fiercely against Fëanor in defence of her mother’s kin”, and this is the idea that Tolkien seems to have been the most stubbornly satisfied with…for a little while, at least. In recent months, this passage has been quoted and discussed at length, as it provides textual evidence for The Rings Of Power‘s interpretation of Galadriel as a warrior, and paints a pretty epic picture of her.

It’s unfortunate, then, that this passage doesn’t fit comfortably within the broader narrative and never has, because Tolkien still needed Galadriel to continue following Fëanor after the Kinslaying – and whether or not it makes sense for her to do so after Fëanor killed many of her people, it’s completely unlike Fëanor to allow her to do so after she had presumably killed or injured some of his. Even though he eventually chose to leave Galadriel and most of the House of Finarfin stranded in the far north (taking with him to Middle-earth only those “whom he deemed true to him”), to argue that that was his plan all along and that he was playing the long game requires a leap in logic I’m not willing to make.

Unfinished Tales contains a rapid, fascinating summary of another version of Galadriel’s story that Tolkien had sketched out shortly before his death in 1973. In this rewrite, he did what most writers do at least once when confronted with a case of characters not doing what they’re supposed to do, and started over from scratch. Galadriel abruptly ceased to be a member of Fëanor’s rebellion and became thoroughly independent from him, with her own goal of sailing to Middle-earth as an adventurer. She just happened to choose a really bad day to set out from Alqualondë, and had to fight Fëanor and his people as they tried to board her ship. This version still gives us a warrior Galadriel (and a seafaring warrior Galadriel at that), but it does remove a layer of complexity from the character that I would have missed.

To recap, the published Silmarillion doesn’t mention Galadriel in connection with the Kinslaying at Alqualondë. By the time we catch up with her again, four whole pages have passed since the Kinslaying and a lot has happened. The gods finally got involved by sending a message to Fëanor (“accidentally” blind-CCing all the Elves in the process) to tell him that he could go to Middle-earth and get swallowed by a dragon for all they care, but that anyone who followed him would be banished from Valinor forever, and when Morgoth inevitably killed them all, even their souls would be forbidden from entering the halls of the dead.

Rings Of Power
Galadriel | winteriscoming.net

Finarfin didn’t need to be told twice to get the hint, and chose to return to Tirion and become High King of the twenty or so Elves left in Valinor. Fëanor and the rest of the Elves continued northward, following the coast of Valinor on land in their ships – until at some point, Fëanor decided that it would be easier to just steal the ships and set sail for Middle-earth, leaving the other Elves stranded in the frigid wastelands north of Valinor. Galadriel finally reappears, and along with her brother Finrod heroically takes command of the dire situation and leads the Elves across the icy land-bridge connecting Valinor to Middle-earth.

This is probably as good a time as any to point out that Galadriel and a group of Elves can be seen traversing an icy landscape in the first teaser trailer for The Rings Of Power, although this scene is said to take place in Middle-earth and not in Valinor, as some had hoped. The giveaway is the bright sunlight beaming down on Galadriel in those shots in the trailer – at the time that Galadriel led the Elves across the Grinding Ice in pursuit of Fëanor, the sun and moon had still not been created.

Unfortunately, Tolkien wrote very little about the crossing in The Silmarillion, and even less in Unfinished Tales. Many Elves died, whether by starving to death or drowning under the ice, but enough survived and were hardened by the experience that their army still made for a fearsome and awe-inspiring sight when they came down from the north into the lands of Middle-earth at the very moment that the sun arose. Morgoth cowered in his fortress under the earth, and his orcs fled before the Elves and permitted them to march straight up to Morgoth’s front gate and beat upon the doors, and Galadriel was probably there but Tolkien doesn’t tell us exactly what she was doing.

With the dawn of the sun, the First Age of Middle-earth officially began. Oh, you thought we were in the First Age already? Haha, no, all of that was just the Years of the Trees. The First Age, however, only lasted about six-hundred years (the Second and Third Ages, for comparison, span over three-thousand years each), and for most of this time Galadriel stayed in the forest realm of Doriath. She and Finrod were invited there by King Elu Thingol (who was the brother of their maternal grandfather), and Galadriel fell in love with an Elven prince named Celeborn whom she met there.

If you thought Galadriel’s backstory was complex, don’t even get me started on Celeborn. In The Lord Of The Rings and the published Silmarillion, it’s mentioned that he’s a “kinsman of Thingol”, which sounds about right…until you remember that Galadriel is also a kinswoman of Thingol, and before you know it you’re poring over fictional family trees desperately trying to prove that Galadriel and Celeborn are not first cousins, they can’t possibly be first cousins…right? Well, yes and no. It depends on which version of Galadriel’s story you’re reading. They’re only first cousins in the version where she sets sail from Alqualondë on her own ship. Before that, they were just second cousins.

While Finrod went off and established his own kingdom in Nargothrond, Galadriel remained in Doriath with Celeborn, learning magical arts and lore from Elu Thingol’s wife, Melian, a minor goddess. As far as we know, she took no active part in the wars against Morgoth or in the later efforts by Fëanor’s sons and other heroes to reclaim the Silmarils, nor did she immediately seek power for herself – probably because she understood just by looking around that until Morgoth was defeated and Fëanor’s family were dead, the Elves would have little peace in Middle-earth. Also, Finrod had once prophesied that Nargothrond would fall, which can’t have filled Galadriel with much confidence for her own prospects.

Finrod’s prophecy came to pass (prophecies have a way of doing that), but neither he nor Galadriel was there to witness the Sack of Nargothrond and the slaughter of Finarfin’s folk. Finrod died in the year 465 of the First Age, and sometime between then and 495, Galadriel packed her things and left Doriath, crossing the Blue Mountains into the unoccupied lands of Eriador. She is sometimes said to have done so alone, but Celeborn probably joined her no later than 506, when he is said to have fled the Sack of Doriath.

Less than a hundred years later, the War of Wrath happened (in which Morgoth was finally vanquished by the gods, and the last of Fëanor’s seven sons either died or disappeared), and at this point The Silmarillion completely loses track of Galadriel in all the chaos and Unfinished Tales picks up their plot-thread in a short text which Christopher Tolkien described as “almost the sole narrative source for the events in the West of Middle-earth up to the defeat and expulsion of Sauron from Eriador in the year 1701 of the Second Age”. These are the events that The Rings Of Power hopes to adapt across its first season.

In this story, Galadriel and Celeborn cross the Blue Mountains into Eriador after the War of Wrath and settle at various locations between Lake Nenuial in the north-west and Eregion in the east, under the shadow of the Misty Mountains and close to the Dwarven city of Khazad-dûm. At some point during their travels, Galadriel gave birth to a daughter, Celebrían (and for the first and only time is mentioned as having a son, Amroth, but this detail is never reflected in The Lord Of The Rings, so I don’t regard it as canon).

Celeborn had no affection for Dwarves, but Galadriel is said to have “looked upon the Dwarves also with the eye of a commander, seeing in them the finest warriors to pit against the Orcs”. When she was ousted from Eregion in a coup led by the craftsman Celebrimbor and a mysterious stranger named Annatar, the Dwarves allowed her safe passage through Khazad-dûm to the woodland realm of Lórinand on the eastern side of the Misty Mountains.

Celeborn “remained behind in Eregion, disregarded by Celebrimbor”.

It soon became apparent to all that the stranger named Annatar was none other than Sauron, formerly the lieutenant of Morgoth, and that he had planned to manipulate the Elven craftspeople of Eregion into forging Rings of Power with which to ensnare the free peoples of Middle-earth. Celebrimbor therefore crossed the Misty Mountains and took counsel from Galadriel, who advised him to give her one of the Rings (no ulterior motive there, that’s for sure!) and to hide the others far from Eregion.

Of the nineteen Rings of Power forged by Celebrimbor and Sauron, sixteen came into Sauron’s possession when he attacked Eregion – but three eluded him forever, and these were the three given to the Elves; one to Galadriel in Lórinand, and two to Galadriel’s young cousin Gil-galad in the realm of Lindon. Sauron considered attacking Lórinand, but the doors of Khazad-dûm were shut and he could not cross the Misty Mountains. Instead, he went after Gil-galad, because there were only so many Elves to whom Celebrimbor would have entrusted a Ring of Power and their identities weren’t exactly secret.

Sauron came very close to defeating Gil-galad and capturing his Rings, but was foiled at the last moment by a Númenórean fleet out of the west, who drove him out of Eriador and back to the shadowed realm of Mordor. “For many years the Westlands had peace”, and in this time Galadriel and Celebrían returned over the Misty Mountains and reunited with Celeborn in the haven of Imladris. Gil-galad joined them for a war-council in which it was decided that he should give one of his Rings of Power to the young lord Elrond of Imladris – who by an extraordinary coincidence had just fallen in love with Galadriel’s daughter, Celebrían (nothing suspicious about that, that’s for sure!)

For more context on Elrond and the Númenóreans, I suggest you check out some of my earlier posts, namely this one and this one – although I will be continuing this series soon with a post about the Númenórean prince Isildur. It should be a lot easier to write than this one, which required me to have several books and literally dozens of search-tabs open simultaneously.

Rings Of Power
Elrond and Galadriel | slashfilm.com

As for Galadriel, well, that’s her entire story through The Rings Of Power season one, at least based on what we currently know. I can’t promise that everything you’ve read in this post will make it into the show, but I do believe that having this context will help a lot of people – particularly new fans – better understand the characters who inhabit Middle-earth, and I hope you’ve enjoyed it. Be sure to share your own thoughts, theories, and opinions, in the comments below!

5 Scenes From The Silmarillion We Need To See In Amazon’s “The Rings Of Power”


The Lord Of The Rings: The Rings Of Power has long been believed to be the most expensive series ever made for either streaming or television. One season alone cost Amazon Studios an estimated $465 million dollars, and with two seasons already greenlit and a total of five planned (not to mention a potential spinoff), this is indeed shaping up to be a billion-dollar investment for Amazon; as initially reported when they obtained the rights to The Lord Of The Rings and its appendices in 2017 for a whopping $250 million.

Rings Of Power
Sauron | inverse.com

But what I and many other fans have wondered for a long time is whether there was more to the deal than Amazon or the Tolkien Estate told us at the time, because in the four years since that deal transpired, we’ve never once heard that Amazon planned to adapt The Lord Of The Rings itself. No, their interest lies solely in the book’s slim collection of appendices, specifically the first five pages of Appendix A, which offers an extremely abridged account of the Second Age of Middle-earth – the period of time in which Amazon’s The Rings Of Power takes place.

You heard that correctly: five pages of source material for a series that is supposed to run for five seasons. I suppose you could throw in the first three pages of Appendix B, and then you could round up all the various references to events in the Second Age found elsewhere throughout the appendices and the book, but ultimately you’re looking at something like…ten to fifteen pages, tops. Hardly worth $250 million dollars, if you ask me.

Unless there was more to the deal.

Look, I don’t want to downplay the significance of the appendices, because most of what we know about the early Third Age comes from Appendix A. But if you’re looking for a detailed account of anything that happens in the Second Age or earlier, there’s really only two places to look: The Silmarillion and Unfinished Tales. Although published several years after J.R.R. Tolkien’s death by his son Christopher, both of these books were stitched together from his notes and various rough drafts to compile the full story of Middle-earth from its creation to the end of the Third Age, focusing primarily on the First and Second Ages.

As a side-note, I highly recommend both books to anyone interested in the Tolkien legendarium, but be aware that neither is a novel. The Silmarillion is a dense historical text written in an archaic style reminiscent of the Old Testament – once you get the hang of it, it can be paradigm-altering, but I won’t fault anyone for page-skimming on their first read. Unfinished Tales actually contains a number of stories with rich characterization and a substantial amount of dialogue, but as the title suggests, very few of these stories are finished – which can make for a jarring reading experience.

Anyway, both of these books would be immensely helpful to the showrunners and writers on The Rings Of Power for the details they provide regarding the Second Age that are nowhere to be found in Tolkien’s other works, including the fullest account of the fall of Númenor and several slightly different versions of the tale of Galadriel, who had a front-row seat to the forging of the Rings of Power in Eregion and the War of the Elves and Sauron. And with every new piece of information we learn about The Rings Of Power, it looks more and more likely that Amazon has the rights to both these books.

This has not been confirmed by Amazon themselves, and by gifting editions of The Return Of The King (complete with its appendices) to members of the Tolkien community over the Christmas holidays, they’ve subtly maintained that they have the rights to those appendices and nothing more. But the math isn’t adding up. Because long before we ever got our first look at The Rings Of Power, place-names found only in Unfinished Tales were already popping up on the official map for the series and cast-members were pictured reading The Silmarillion. And when we did get our first official image from the series, it depicted a scene straight out of The Silmarillion.

According to TheOneRing.net and their occasionally reliable sources, Amazon possesses the rights to certain “elements and passages” from The Silmarillion and Unfinished Tales, and their theory is that this would include anything pertaining to the stories already summarized in the appendices to The Lord Of The Rings. But where does one draw the limit? The stories of Middle-earth are intertwined to such an extensive degree that, even in-universe, characters (usually Sam Gamgee, to be honest) are constantly remarking on how they’ve unexpectedly ended up in someone else’s story, or are affected by something someone did thousands of years prior. The great tales never end.

So today we’re looking at iconic characters and memorable events from The Silmarillion (and in a separate post, Unfinished Tales) that don’t feature in the appendices to The Lord Of The Rings, but which could still make an appearance in The Rings Of Power anyway. This is by no means a comprehensive list, but I wanted to choose characters and events that would be relevant to the narrative and themes of Amazon’s series – based on the limited information available to us.

1: The Ainur And The Ainulindalë

The Rings Of Power
The Discord Of Melkor by Anna Kulisz | deviantart.com

Most fantasy authors aspire to write a halfway decent book, publish it, and hopefully sell enough copies to write a sequel or two. J.R.R. Tolkien, in his early twenties, already had much higher ambitions. He wanted to create a national mythology for England, and he had Ideas for which of “the great tales” he would actually write, and which he would leave “only placed in the scheme, and sketched….[leaving] scope for other minds and hands, wielding paint and music and drama”. The Silmarillion was originally intended to be the backbone of this mythology; a quasi-religious text from which Tolkien hoped other artists and authors could draw inspiration for their own Middle-earth stories.

And like most religious texts, The Silmarillion begins with a good old-fashioned creation myth – The Ainulindalë – that takes its sweet time describing in painstaking detail the hierarchy and individual powers and attributes of the Ainur, Middle-earth’s pantheon of gods and deities. Tolkien wanted The Silmarillion to be ready for publication simultaneously with The Lord Of The Rings, so that readers intrigued by the scattered references to the Ainur in the latter novel could follow the trail back to where it all began – a bit like a glossary.

Unfortunately, he struggled to edit The Silmarillion into a book – and it wasn’t until after his death, when his son Christopher took on the daunting task, that the work was finally finished. As Christopher himself noted, the wait had been so long by that point that many readers had come to associate Tolkien’s style of worldbuilding with a sense of mystery that left endless possibilities for imaginative headcanons. Some fans, not won over by Christopher Tolkien’s dry, passable writing style, were disappointed to see their favorite gaps in the lore filled in so concretely – especially with regards to the Ainur.

And because The Silmarillion is typically not a book that even hardcore Tolkien fans read until after they’ve read The Lord Of The Rings once or twice, what was an issue in 1977 is still an issue now for many readers, who are almost invariably surprised to discover that Middle-earth has gods, if not weirded out by the lengthy descriptions of the gods and their casual interactions with humans. Be glad, then, that Christopher Tolkien actually cut out the pages and pages of exposition about the gods’ homes and interior décor (all of which I’m embarrassed to say I find fascinating).

But the Ainur are thematically significant to the overarching narrative of Middle-earth, and inextricable from the plot. Sauron is one of several characters sprinkled throughout Tolkien’s works who is actually a member of the Ainur, although by the time of The Lord Of The Rings, that detail had been forgotten by most and was not relevant to the story Tolkien was telling. In the Second Age, it’s vital information – I’ve written more extensively about Sauron’s backstory and the nuances of his character elsewhere, but I’ll just say this: if Amazon wants him to be the great villain that he surely can be, they need to tell audiences who he really is behind his various disguises.

OK, I’ll say a bit more, because I can’t help myself. Sauron’s character arc in the Second Age is intertwined with that of another Ainu, the fallen angel Melkor. In the beginning, Melkor had disrupted the harmonious music of the Ainur with his violent melodies, leading to a cosmic conflict that spanned the entirety of the First Age and ended with Melkor being cast into the void. But before he was forcibly removed from Middle-earth, Melkor influenced a number of lesser Ainur with his teachings, including Sauron. They were all given a chance to repent their sins after Melkor’s downfall, but Sauron refused out of humiliation for his defeat and bitter envy of the gods, and the rest is history.

Sauron’s goal was never to destroy the world but to create paradise on earth. When he proves unable to do so (because nothing perfect or beautiful can be created by evil), he decides to adopt Melkor’s nihilistic tactics and simply raze paradise instead, mustering a Númenórean army to invade the realm of the gods near the end of the Second Age with the empty promise that they can liberate Melkor from the void. The other Ainur are legitimately scared for their lives, and cry out to the one god above all others, Eru Ilúvatar, for help. He intervenes on their behalf, changing the shape of the world so that paradise is no longer accessible to humans.

Whether The Rings Of Power adapts The Ainulindalë specifically, I believe there is no better time for the Ainur to finally appear – explicitly, not merely in disguise – and for audiences to get a glimpse of the overarching cosmic narrative, the “majestic whole” linking all the stories of Middle-earth from The Silmarillion to The Lord Of The Rings. I also feel that Melkor and Eru at the very least should both be established as characters (or perhaps as mere entities, to preserve some of the mystery surrounding them and avoid potentially ridiculous character designs) long in advance of the cataclysmic events in which they take part.

2: Fëanor

Rings Of Power
Feanor, Melkor and Silmarils by @kaprriss | deviantart.com

The first words in Appendix A of The Lord Of The Rings speak of Fëanor, the “greatest of the Eldar in arts and lore, but also the proudest and most selfwilled”. But the story of his life is only provided in summary as necessary context for the account of Númenor that follows, and readers interested in the character will find little information about him in the main text of The Lord Of The Rings, where Fëanor is mentioned a mere three times – his name uttered with reverence even by Gandalf himself. Only The Silmarillion tells the full tale; and what a tale it is.

Fëanor’s actions during the Years of the Trees and at the very beginning of the First Age of Middle-earth set in motion two conflicts that continued long into the Third Age; one a physical conflict between his family and…well, everybody, which claimed the lives of countless Elves including Fëanor and all but one of his seven famous sons; the other a metaphysical conflict, which was even more damaging to the Elves and lead to the eventual diminishment of their civilization and the dwindling of their people. Without him, the Rings of Power would never have existed, nor would the Elves have been tempted to make them in the first place.

After the beginning, but before time was being counted in years, the Elves lived in paradise alongside the gods and benefited greatly from their guidance and friendship. These were the Years of the Trees, when the sun and moon did not yet exist and the only natural light-source were the stars and the Two Trees of Valinor. The Two Trees were visible in the first official image from The Rings Of Power, released last year, which depicted an unnamed elf (now rumored to be Finrod) looking out over the Elven city of Tirion.

The most notable resident of Tirion was Fëanor, patriarch of a powerful (and exceptionally talented) family of blacksmiths, jewelsmiths, craftspeople, and inventors. Together, they designed intricate machines and incredible works of art – some of which, like the palantíri or Seeing Stones, survived into the Third Age and were weaponized during the War of the Ring. Fëanor was even able to capture some of the light of the Two Trees of Valinor and encase it within a set of jewels which he named the Silmarils. As Tolkien said, “Greatest of the Eldar in arts and lore”. In arts and lore. In all other regards…not the brightest bulbs in the box.

What Fëanor forgot, in his vanity, was that the Silmarils derived their radiance from the divine light within them – over which Fëanor had no rightful claim. So of course, when the Silmarils were inevitably stolen by Melkor, Fëanor took that as a personal insult and he and his family disobeyed the gods and pursued Melkor into Middle-earth. As a symbolic gesture, they also swore an unbreakable oath to never rest until they regained all three Silmarils. See what I’m saying? Rational thinking was not one of Fëanor’s strengths.

To be fair, no one could have known that he would spontaneously combust roughly five minutes later or that one by one, each of his sons would be dragged into the grave alongside him by the oath that chained them to his fate. But that didn’t stop regret and bitterness from setting in very quickly, particularly amongst the other Elves who had rebelled against the gods by following Fëanor and now found themselves stuck in a war-torn Middle-earth, forbidden to re-enter paradise. Even when the gods lifted the ban at the end of the First Age, many Elves refused to return – out of some mixture of shame, anger, and a fierce love for Middle-earth.

This is the volatile situation that Sauron took advantage of, by promising the Elves – including Fëanor’s gullible grandson, Celebrimbor – that they could repair the damage of the war they had brought with them, remake Middle-earth into a paradise more beautiful than that of the gods, and prove that Fëanor’s reckless quest for vengeance had been worth it in the end. This is something that resonates with many of the Elves, even those not fooled by Sauron’s lies. But the creation of the Rings of Power, bestowing upon their wearers the ability to slow the passage of time and prevent against decay, perfectly represents how their love was always misplaced.

Repeating the mistakes made by Fëanor, the Elves of the Second Age became possessive of Middle-earth, forgetting that it was never meant for them in the first place and that they had no power to control its fate. By refusing to leave, they placed themselves directly in the path of humans; the intended residents of Middle-earth. This coming-to-terms with the concept of mortality is an overarching theme of the Second Age, for Elves (who are immortal but must diminish and leave the lands they love) and for humans (who are literally mortal, “doomed to die”).

The final scene of The Lord Of The Rings finds Galadriel, Elrond, and many of the greatest Elves in Middle-earth boarding a ship bound for paradise – bringing to an end the time of the Elves, and clearing the way for humans. It is a sad moment, but a hopeful one as well, in which the Elves realize at long last that to love something, sometimes you have to let it go. But many fans, particularly of Peter Jackson’s films, describe this scene as confusing – because much of the essential context is only found in The Silmarillion. The Rings Of Power has an opportunity to change that by depicting Fëanor’s fall from grace, and I hope the showrunners take it.

3: The First Alliance Of Elves And Men

Rings Of Power
Felagund Among Beor’s Men by Ted Nasmith | theonering.net

The prologue to The Lord Of The Rings, depicting the War of the Last Alliance between Elves and Men and the moment in which Isildur cut the One Ring from Sauron’s hand, thereby ending the Second Age and bringing about the Third, has become a staple of film adaptations of the story (granted there have only been two, but The Rings Of Power will likely show this moment a third time), but neither Jackson nor Bakshi had the time to try and explain why that Alliance was the last. It simply was, and that worked for the films because the story of The Lord Of The Rings doesn’t rely on an understanding of Elven interactions with Men during the First and Second Age.

But the first two episodes of The Rings Of Power are rumored to form one three-hour long prologue to the main events of the series, and something I sincerely hope that’s included in that prologue is some mention or reenactment of the first meeting between Elves and Men, because frankly I don’t know how you can tell the story of the Second Age without establishing that Elves and Men used to be the closest of allies. It’d be like launching into the story of A Christmas Carol without first clarifying, beyond a shadow of doubt, that “the Marleys were dead to begin with”.

Men were born with the first rising of the sun, at the beginning of the First Age – very soon after the death of Fëanor, in fact. Following the sun, they traveled westward across Middle-earth for some three-hundred years, to the lands of Beleriand where the Elves were then living. And it was there that a group of Men under the leadership of Balan were discovered one evening by Finrod Felagund, the lord of Nargothrond, who crept warily into their camp and, moved by sudden love for these strange people, took up a harp and sang to them of the blessed land.

Finrod, as I’ve mentioned, is believed to be the character seen in the first image from The Rings Of Power. He was the elder brother of Galadriel, but one of the youngest lords in the host that left paradise – and he had not gone out of love or loyalty to Fëanor, but rather out of fear that Fëanor would lead the Elves astray. In Middle-earth, however, he found a new purpose helping the first Men, welcoming them into his kingdom and teaching them the skills they would need to build their own civilizations. While his fellow Elves were busy clinging to what they had, Finrod was already preparing to relinquish dominion of Middle-earth to Men.

Assuming Finrod is onscreen for more than five seconds (and assuming that’s even Finrod in that screenshot), his meeting with Balan is a scene that we could expect to see in the first episode – hopefully followed by some kind of montage depicting their life together, because there are very few characters in Tolkien’s legendarium who come quite as close to being canonically queer as Balan, the man who abandoned his people to go live with Finrod after spending a couple of days with the guy, and made the intriguing decision to change his name to Bëor (literally, ‘Vassal’ or ‘subordinate’).

Platonic or not, their relationship was so close that Bëor’s entire extended family also swore loyalty to Finrod, and he honored them all with the title of “Elf-friend”. Throughout the First Age, Elves and Men working together beat back the forces of Melkor just long enough for a mariner named Eärendil (himself a half-Elf, born to a human father and Elven mother) to journey across the sea to the realm of the gods with a plea for help. He was successful in his mission, and the gods defeated Melkor, but as Tolkien was no doubt well aware, winning the war is sometimes less difficult than picking up the pieces afterward.

The gods came between Elves and Men, but from the night they first met in Beleriand it was probably inevitable that they would clash over the subject of mortality. In The Silmarillion, we see the first death of a man from the perspective of the Elves, who are startled and saddened when Bëor suddenly dies at the age of ninety-three – still extremely young by Elf years. We don’t see the reaction from Men to the revelation that Elves don’t die, but that’s something I hope The Rings Of Power remedies; thus planting the seeds for the conflict that will define the Second Age.

4: The Death Of Finrod Felagund

Rings Of Power
Finrod before Tirion | nbcnews.com

Elves don’t die, but they can be killed, and the wars with Melkor claimed thousands of lives. It was an especially unhappy time for people whose names began with F, as Fëanor, Fingolfin, Fingon, Finduilas, and Finrod Felagund at various points all fell victim to Melkor and his minions. I could be here all day recounting the events that led up to each of their deaths, but we don’t have time for that and I highly doubt The Rings Of Power has time for that, even in a three-hour long prologue. Gotta save some stuff for the inevitable First Age spin-off series, am I right?

But out of all the characters listed above, there’s just one whose gruesome death would (a) clearly convey the unforgettable horror and personal tragedy of the wars with Melkor, specifically for the rumored main character of The Rings Of Power, Galadriel, (b) firmly establish the genuine threat posed by Sauron while revealing to the general audience that he was once the servant of an even more terrible Dark Lord, and (c) cap off what could otherwise be a slow-moving, exposition-heavy prologue with a cool and distinctly unique action sequence.

That character is Finrod Felagund. Ah, sweet, kind, selfless Finrod; always ready and willing to put his own life in danger to protect people he barely even knew. Fittingly, it was a Man – Beren of the House of Bëor – whom he died defending, while the two were being held prisoner by Sauron in the werewolf-infested ruins of Finrod’s old fortress on the island of Tol Sirion. For reasons that I feel have never been adequately explained, Sauron spent most of the First Age breeding werewolves on Tol Sirion. At some point he must have stopped, because werewolves seem to have died out by the time of The Lord Of The Rings, but he was obsessed with them for a long time.

Finrod and Beren fell into Sauron’s hands while trying to sneak past Tol Sirion with a company of Elves disguised as orcs. Sauron, a literal shapeshifter and master of illusions, wasn’t fooled for an instant, and “chanted a song of wizardry” to reveal the truth. What followed was a magical contest unlike anything else found in Tolkien’s works, with Finrod singing a song of paradise to defy Sauron and strengthen the spell that hid them. In response, Sauron sang of the shame of the Elves and of Fëanor’s rebellion that had destroyed the peace of paradise, and ultimately defeated Finrod, leaving him and Beren “naked and afraid”.

Then Sauron chained Finrod, and he tossed the Elf and his companions into a deep pit beneath Tol Sirion – and from time to time he would send a werewolf down into the pit to devour one of the companions, until only Finrod and Beren were left. The werewolf came one last time, and this time it came for Beren; but Finrod (who mind you, was completely naked and probably already dying of starvation and thirst) broke his chains using only his raw strength, grabbed the werewolf, and killed it “with his hands and teeth”, which to my mind implies that he…disemboweled the creature? Strangled it? Either way, it was gory and epic.

He died, of course, but saved Beren’s life, and in that same hour Lúthien came to Tol Sirion looking for Beren, and she battled Sauron, using her own magic to defeat the lord of werewolves and bring down the fortress. Sauron was forced to go into hiding, lurking in bat-form in the woods of Dorthonion where neither the Elves nor the wrath of Melkor could reach him. It wasn’t until Lúthien was dead and Melkor was defeated that Sauron finally reappeared at the dawn of the Second Age. Still, he had brought about the death of Finrod, and that was a terrible blow to the Elves.

In Nargothrond, Finrod’s death led to a conflict over succession between his regent Orodreth and the powerful sons of Fëanor who had hoped to usurp the throne. Galadriel’s reaction to her brother’s death is not recorded, and Tolkien wrote so many different versions of her story that it’s difficult to even pin down where she was at the time, but it could have been roughly around this point that Galadriel ventured further into Middle-earth, leaving Beleriand and the War with Melkor to others.

Galadriel will be a major character in The Rings Of Power, and for her not to mention Finrod at any point throughout the series would be very surprising to me – especially seeing as she crosses paths with Sauron during the Second Age and has a rare opportunity to interact with him face-to-face, while he is still cleverly disguised as an Elf and she is trying to figure out who he really is behind his façade. The situation is different, and the roles are reversed, but there’s an intriguing parallel there to Finrod’s unsuccessful deception of Sauron, and it would be poetic if Sauron’s undisguisable disdain for Finrod was what ultimately broke the illusion.

5: The War Of Wrath

Rings Of Power
Ancalagon The Black (Silmarillion) by Anato Finnstark | artstation.com

The First Age of Middle-earth ended in a brief, tumultuous conflict called the War of Wrath by the Elves – and according to Tolkien, they wrote few tales about it because they did not take part in it, and only witnessed from afar the clash of Melkor’s horde with the mighty host of the Ainur summoned out of the west by Eärendil. I have a suspicion that this was partly an excuse to get out of writing about the war itself, as Tolkien later made a habit out of knocking his characters unconscious right before battles, but the truth is that the gods had no military strategies, no battle plans, nothing from which an author could form a detailed account of this war.

The War is largely described in broad terms: “The evil realm was brought to naught….the northern regions of the world were rent asunder….there was confusion and great noise.” The fury of the gods was so terrible that they broke the land of Beleriand beneath their feet, and all its inhabitants fled further into Middle-earth (where they reunited with Galadriel, who had been chilling out in Lindon for the last century or so). But the only moment from this War of Wrath that Tolkien describes in much depth is the duel between Eärendil and the great dragon Ancalagon, who crushed Melkor’s mountain fortress beneath him when he fell from the sky.

Melkor was tossed into the Void, the Silmarils were placed forever beyond the reach of the Elves, the last son of Fëanor disappeared into self-imposed exile, and the Second Age began. It was a time for rebuilding, a time of hope and joy and celebration. Too bad the gods’ misguided attempts to strongarm Elves and Men into throwing away the last several hundred years of collective growth and development in favor of a ‘return to normalcy’ would ultimately result in another conflict that would span the next three-thousand years.

The gods were at first unconcerned with Men. They gave them an island all to themselves as compensation for their sacrifices, because they trusted that Eru Ilúvatar had a plan for the human race, and they knew that humans needed to proliferate to achieve that plan, but their primary goal was getting the Elves out of Middle-earth before that happened and bringing them back across the sea to paradise. Many Elves refused to go back, but with the ban finally lifted, the fates of Elves and Men began to diverge.

This caused a lot of problems for Men, who understandably wanted to check in with their Elven friends who had departed across the sea, only to be informed that they weren’t even allowed to sail “so far westward that the coasts of Númenor could no longer be seen”. At first, they respected this ban and were content with receiving occasional Elven visitors from paradise in Númenor’s western port cities, but gradually the uneasy feeling that they were being excluded from something gave rise to rumors that the secret to immortality could be found in paradise, but that the gods would not share it with Men.

As they watched more and more of the Elves return across the sea to paradise, forsaking the land over which they had fought and spilled their blood together, it’s easy to imagine how the Númenóreans must have felt – but their growing envy of the Elves and fear of their own fate led to indefensible and increasingly irrational acts of violence as they tried to ward off death with dark magic and necromancy, or desensitize themselves to it by slaughtering the inhabitants of Middle-earth. By time Sauron came among them, they were already on the brink of breaking ties with Elves and gods entirely.

Sauron exploited the situation, just as he did with the Elves, and convinced the Númenóreans that they could obtain immortality by force from the gods. At this point, you’d think that the gods would maybe want to step in and quietly remove Sauron from the picture, but nah, they let him openly butcher Elf-friends and prisoners of war on an altar dedicated to Melkor for years while only occasionally communicating their displeasure via eagle. To the surprise of absolutely no one, Sauron was able to persuade the Númenóreans into attacking paradise, at which point the gods finally responded by…opening a chasm under the island to swallow it whole.

Much of this could have been avoided, perhaps, if the gods had not been so obsessed with trying to divide Elves and Men across two separate continents that they accidentally caused them to fear and hate each other, or if they had devoted literally any of their infinite time and energy to locating Sauron and Melkor’s other lieutenants instead of giving them freedom to roam across Middle-earth. Or perhaps not. Tolkien’s works allow for multiple, equally valid readings, and it’s important to remember that The Silmarillion is told from an Elven perspective, and Elven biases are intentionally engrained into it.

Whichever angle The Rings Of Power takes, blaming gods, Elves, Men, or all of the above, the events of the War of Wrath (and its immediate aftermath) are a vital prelude to the fall of Númenor. Besides that, there’s an opportunity to show off the largest dragon ever (and director J.A. Bayona has plenty of experience with giant reptiles), and for some truly groundbreaking action sequences. The fact that Amazon’s official map for The Rings Of Power also draws attention to the scattering of islands left over from Beleriand after the War of Wrath suggests that this is something we will see early in the series, and I couldn’t be more excited.

So what do you think of the points on my list? Stay tuned for part two of what may or may not be an ongoing series (is The Akallabêth long enough to warrant a whole separate post?), and as always, share your own thoughts, theories, and opinions, in the comments below!

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”.


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 Include That Will Shock The Fandom

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

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

The Lord Of The Rings
Blue Wizards | reddit.com

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

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

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

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

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

The Lord Of The Rings
Sauron | indiewire.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Lord Of The Rings
Eowyn | tor.com

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

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

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

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