The author of A Song of Ice and Fire (I live in hope that there will be more books!), George R. R. Martin spoke to The Independent during the Santa Fe Literary Festival.

During the chat, he spoke dismissively of the supposed rivalry between The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power and House of the Dragon (TLOTR: ROP is out from September 2 on Prime video, while HOTD debuts on August 21 on HBO).

The battle for fantasy supremacy. It’s The Rings of Power versus House of the Dragon — who will win? I don’t know why they always have to do that.

I hope both shows succeed.

Acknowledging his own competitiveness and desire to hopefully “succeed more”, he nonetheless declared that the existence of both was good for fantasy and science fiction and that he wants to see more such shows on television.

Got Tolkien news? Email spymaster@theonering.net.

Over on The Gamer, there’s a great little backgrounder about the famous king of Rohan, Helm Hammerhand. It discusses his reign, key role in the events of the Long Winter and suggests he might just be “the most badass” character Tolkien ever wrote.

I’m not so sure on the last; any number of First Age elves might disagree (let alone the famously enthusiastic Morgoth-wrestler, Tulkas) but it’s certainly material for a good debate.

An excerpt:

…it’s not killing Freca that gave Helm his name, it’s his solo missions behind Dunlending lines during the Long Winter. His people were besieged by weather and foes for five months, and Helm himself was gaunt and emaciated due to famine and grief for his son who was killed in battle. Despite this, Helm clad himself in white and stalked behind enemy lines “like a snow troll.” He would kill many foes with his bare hands during these raids, and legends spread about his abilities.

The Gamer
Wulf’s forces assault Edoras. Concept art for The War of the Rohirrim.

I also have to note that the author considers the presence of the Haradrim (and Mûmakil) a non-canon insertion for The War of the Rohirrim. As I outlined in a long article a couple of weeks ago, the appendices to The Lord of the Rings indicate that folk from Harad actually supported Wulf’s endeavours.

In the days of Beren, the nineteenth Steward, an even greater peril came upon Gondor. Three great fleets, long prepared, came up from Umbar and the Harad [my emphasis], and assailed the coasts of Gondor in great force; and the enemy made many landings, even as far north as the mouth of the Isen. [again, my emphasis]

Appendix A, The Lord of the Rings

Still, it’s a great read if you don’t know anything about Helm Hammerhand and want to look him up. Go check it out.

Thanks to Chen for the heads-up about the article.

The Lord of the Rings: The War of the Rohirrim

TheOneRing.net will be at WonderCon this year, and we will be hosting two panels over the course of the weekend, April 1-3 in the Anaheim Convention Center. If you plan to attend the convention, please read through the WonderCon COVID protocols.

Our first panel, Middle-earth! Coming to your TV this Fall will be at 4:30 pm on Friday, April 1 (no joke) in room North 200A. This will be our big overview panel, with all the news, rumors, and anecdotes about Amazon’s Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power, as well as the WB’s upcoming animated War of the Rohirrim. There will be an update on any and all Middle-earth news, activities, and events coming up this year. And we can wait to see if anyone has had enough time to create a costume from the recent Amazon Teaser Trailer.

Our Second panel, I am no Man: The Women of Middle-earth will be a deep dive into Tolkien’s legendarium to discuss all the unique and wonderful women that Tolkien created. For those who have just read The Hobbit, Middle-earth feels like an ‘all males club’, but in The Lord of the Rings and some of the books of deeper lore, there are queens and warriors and creators, all women, who had a hand in shaping the Middle-earth we all know and love. The presentation is still being crafted, if there is a specific woman of Middle-earth you wish to see discussed, send an email to Garfeimao@TheOnering.net. Include the character name and a brief note about what makes her so special for you, we will include as many as we can fit into our allotted panel time.

There’s a particular letter in The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien where Tolkien writes about his experience of dealing with a proposal from Forrest J. Ackerman to make an animated film of The Lord of the Rings.

Within that letter, there’s one revealing sentence.

Stanley U. &: I have agreed on our policy : Art or Cash. Either very profitable terms indeed ; or absolute author’s veto on objectionable [my emphasis] features or alterations.

Letter #202, The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien.

The deal never happened, though Tolkien did subsequently sell film rights in 1969 to United Artists under the looming pressure of inheritance taxes.

These days, I suspect there’s no such pressure. More, the “Middle-earth universe” is seen as a proven starter for the world’s media companies. I think that has given Tolkien Estate leverage: the power to demand not just Cash, but Art as well.

In the context of the recent Vanity Fair feature, this explains not just the starting price for the Tolkien Estate’s rights auction a “gobsmacking” $200 million, but the documented demand for input into the direction of the series. In an early, seemingly unauthorised, interview, Tom Shippey described this “input” as a “veto power”.

It also says something about the power of Middle-earth that even with that eye-watering starting price and the attachment of certain pre-conditions, Netflix, HBO and Amazon all put their hand up and bid.

Still, even if Tolkien Estate was willing to put its foot down to get that capital-A Art, it was always going to take an equally ambitious (and well-resourced) studio to come through with the goods.

Despite Vanity Fair’s assurances (it’s pretty stunning that they’ve seen the first three episodes already), it’s too early for us ordinary punters to declare The Rings of Power a sure bet — in either the commercial sense, or the Art sense.

However, Vanity Fair’s first look under the bonnet shows there’s no lack of promise: the images are intriguing and suggestive, sets and costumes look suitably spectacular, and the production staff are making the right sort of noises about respecting the integrity of the source material.

But a show with the resources of The Rings of Power should (by default) have stunning production values and a real, lived-in feel. That’s just a given.

And it’s politic for showrunners to make the right noises (I would, too). The question is, can we identify instances of real substance to back those noises? Has the objectionable — as Tolkien might have seen it — been excised?

An Atlantis-like Númenor, the full glory of Khazad-dûm —- that vast dwarven metropolis carved out of the bones of the Misty Mountains, the puissance of the elven smith Celebrimbor, whose skills with metals and magic are crucial to the forging of the rings are all lore-friendly inclusions.

They’re also easy wins.

In a way, so too is the centrality of Galadriel.

Galadriel is a key player in the Second Age (fighting the long defeat, as she expresses in The Lord of the Rings). After the publication of that book, Tolkien increasingly came to view her as one of the most remarkable elves to play a role in Middle-earth’s history, and his later essays and notes paint her as an increasingly exceptional individual. She’s also incredibly peripatetic throughout the Second Age — wandering from Lindon, into Eriador and eventually south to Eregion, under the Misty Mountains to Lórien, back across to Imladris (Rivendell) and finally the south coasts of what would later become Gondor.

During all that, she’s a key participant in events. She joins Gil-galad to reject the approaches of Annatar, alternately collaborating and at loggerheads with Celebrimbor (and later advising him to hide Nenya, Vilya and Narya), before strengthening then-Lórinand (later Lórien). Unfinished Tales states that she views the dwarves of Khazad-dûm “with the eye of a commander”.

That bespeaks a driven individual — and this is something that the teasers from Vanity Fair support. I want to see lots of ambition from Galadriel — someone with just as much inner-belief and determination to make things happen as Fëanor, but with (even at the start of the Second Age) a touch more wisdom. I think you should too.

As showrunner McKay Patrick tells Vanity Fair: “This young hot-headed Galadriel… how did she ever become that elder stateswoman [who we meet in Lórien in The Lord of the Rings]?” The awareness of that difference is present; if the show is able to intelligently show this change, it will have taken a large step toward something that accords with J.R.R. Tolkien’s own musings.

Galadriel, commander of the Northern Armies. Matt Grace/Amazon Studios.

Reassuring also is the gradual emergence of the Second Age threat — one that’s recognised by some, but not by others. After all, up until the forging of the One, Sauron (as Annatar) uses the velvet glove, not the iron fist. Very late writings recently published in The Nature of Middle-earth even suggest that his minions mocked him behind his back for this.

Again, direct statements from the McKay seem to back this: “We didn’t want to do a villain-centric thing. We wanted it [the first season] to be about introducing these worlds and the peoples who dwell in them and the major heroes and characters.”

And what is potentially one of the most contentious decisions — to include Hobbits as “Harfoots” — accords somewhat with both Gandalf’s description of Gollum’s folk (yes, I know those are, more correctly, Stoors): “a clever-handed and quiet-footed little people.”

And a note in the prologue chapter of The Lord of the Rings, “Concerning Hobbits” details that “even in ancient days [Hobbits] were, as a rule, shy of ‘the Big Folk’, as they call us, and now they avoid us with dismay and are becoming hard to find … [and] they possessed from the first the art of disappearing swiftly and silently, when large folk whom they do not wish to meet come blundering by…”

Is this one decision Tolkien Estate has weighed in on? Regardless, much will hinge on the execution of the concept.

Set against the above is the compression of the timeline that the showrunners discuss. First, kudos to the production staff for being clear on this. In fact, it recalls Peter Jackson’s bald statements that his films would include no Scouring of the Shire — a very real cause of fan angst at the time. (I still think that writing decision undersold some of the character development of the four key hobbits, but, weighing in at 201 minutes, PJ’s The Return of the King is already very long.)

I get the fact that it’s probably really difficult for any television series to traverse a 2,500-year history in a way that is not choppy and disjointed, and remains compelling viewing. Being able to see characters such as, say, Isildur and Ar-Pharazôn across a span of 5 seasons allows a great deal more screentime (and thus development and insight) than would be possible in a couple of seasons. A strictly linear structure would introduce them only at near the very conclusion of the entire series.

Still, I would have liked (as many speculated before the Vanity Fair article came out) to have seen Amazon be really daring and attempt to run two split, simultaneous timelines — one leading up to the forging of the One (and Sauron’s defeat by the elves and Númenor’s fleet), and another focused on Akallabêth and, perhaps, the War of the Last Alliance (also culminating in Sauron’s defeat, this time by the elves and the Dúnedain of Arnor and Gondor).

Doubtless, it would be demanding on the audience. But if it worked, it would have been amazing.

It’s worth noting, though, that J.R.R. Tolkien in his appraisal of the Morton Grady Zimmerrnan’s 1958 script made specific reference to his displeasure with time contraction of events.

There he states that:

I fail to see why the time-scheme should be deliberately contracted. It is already rather packed in the original, the main action occurring between Sept. 22 and March 25 of the following year. The many impossibilities and absurdities which further hurrying produces might, I suppose, be unobserved by an uncritical viewer; but I do not see why they should be unnecessarily introduced.

Letter #210, The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien

Does that make this particular contraction objectionable?

In Letter #210, Tolkien points out that he doesn’t want to see “his work treated as it would seem carelessly in general, in places recklessly, and with no evident signs of any appreciation of what it is all about.” He does not want the tone lowered “towards that of a more childish fairy-tale.” Lastly, he does not wish for deliberate alteration of the story, in fact and significance, without any practical or artistic object [my emphasis].”

At least, those are my key takeaways.

Now, one observes that if the time scheme of The Lord of the Rings is packed, the precis account of the Second Age in The Tale of Years is most certainly not.

Tolkien also notes in Letter #210 that he closely observed the passing of seasons in The Lord of the Rings. He suggests that such pictorial representations could be used to non-explicitly indicate the passage of time. Similar effects might be employed for The Rings of Power series. Maybe not the thousands we are familiar with from “The Tale of Years”, but certainly dozens — or even the 100 to 200 that might encompass the lifespan of a Dúnedain of Númenor, or a dwarf of Durin’s line.

How much time is being contracted? Vanity Fair is not precise: the writers say that events are compressed “into a single point in time.” That might mean a span of a generation.

Here is where it would have been fascinating to be a fly on the wall in the discussions between Amazon Studios and Tolkien Estate.

Finally, keep in mind J.R.R. Tolkien’s letter to Milton Waldman outlining his artistic vision:

I would draw some of the great tales in fullness, and leave many only placed in the scheme, and sketched. The cycles should be linked to a majestic whole, and yet leave scope for other minds and hands, wielding paint and music and drama. Absurd.

Letter #131. The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien

Absurd. Yet, here we are.

With this in mind, I think there are promising signs that Tolkien Estate (and indeed, Amazon Studios) is seeking Art, not just Cash. Early shoots with the promise of beautiful spring, you might say.

But there’s still an awfully long way to go.

As Galadriel says in The Lord of the Rings: “hope remains while all the Company is true.” We’ll see in September how true this particular company has been.

About the author: Staffer Demosthenes has been involved with TheOneRing.net since 2001, serving first as an Associate News Editor, then as Chief News Editor during the making of the Hobbit films. Now he focuses on features and analysis. The opinions in this article are his own and do not necessarily represent those of TheOnering.net and other staff.

If you have a Tolkien/Middle-earth inspired poem you’d like to share, then send it to poetry@theonering.net. One poem per person may be submitted each month. Please make sure to proofread your work before sending it in. TheOneRing.net is not responsible for poems posting with spelling or grammatical errors.

It appears that the appearance of Mûmakil in the recent Warner Bros. concept art has sparked dire thoughts that the production is already going off-track and that the apocalypse is nigh.

Fear not: I think people are misremembering the contents of Appendix A of The Lord of the Rings. That’s okay — I forget things all the time only to be reminded of something really obvious like “Oh, Finrod is a blonde, duh”.

The good news is that we don’t have to dig far here to get at the substance of the argument. First, Appendix A: II: The House of Eorl. Second, we want to look at the corresponding entries for the Stewards of Gondor. That is, anything mentioned during the stewardship of Beren.

This comprises the core of our knowledge about this period of the history of Gondor and Rohan.

Looking more closely at the histories, two passages stand out.

First, turning to the House of Eorl, we find this passage describing events in the years after Helm Hammerhand killed the Dunlending, Freca, with a blow from his fist at Edoras:

Four years later (2758) great troubles came to Rohan, and no help could be sent from Gondor, for three fleets of the Corsairs attacked it and there was war on all its coasts. At the same time Rohan was again invaded from the East [my emphasis], and the Dunlendings seeing their chance came over the Isen and down from Isengard. It was soon known that Wulf was their leader. The were in great force, for they were joined by enemies of Gondor that landed in the mouths of Lefnui and Isen.

Appendix A, The Lord of the Rings

Now, I’ll agree from the east is vague. Do the Balcoth, who assaulted Gondor during Cirion’s stewardship, still exist as a threat? Could that be referring to them? Or folk out of Rhûn? Not impossible. That the folk of Harad would circle all the way around Mordor in order to cross the Brown Lands and cross the Anduin at The Undeeps seems … less than likely.

But I don’t think it actually matters.

Because more details emerge from the Appendix A section that discusses events during the lifetime of the Steward of Gondor, Beren.

In the days of Beren, the nineteenth Steward, an even greater peril came upon Gondor. Three great fleets, long prepared, came up from Umbar and the Harad [my emphasis], and assailed the coasts of Gondor in great force; and the enemy made many landings, even as far north as the mouth of the Isen.

Appendix A, The Lord of the Rings

Joining these two together, I believe, solidifies an argument for the presence of Haradrim (and thus, potentially Mûmakil at Edoras when it’s taken by Freca’s son Wulf).

Because as Appendix A also states:

The Rohirrim were defeated and their land was overrun; and those who were not slain or enslaved fled to the dales of the mountains. Helm was driven back with great loss from the Crossings of Isen and took refuge in the Hornburg and the ravine behind (which was after known as Helm’s Deep). There he was besieged. Wulf took Edoras and sat in Meduseld and called himself king. There Haleth Helm’s son fell, last of all, defending the doors.

Appendix A, The Lord of the Rings

Thus, what the concept art shows is Wulf’s final assault on Edoras with the assistance of Haradrim allies. Haradrim allies who were part of those three fleets (along with the Corsairs of Umbar). Haradrim allies who landed at the mouths of the Lenfui and the Isen. And Haradrim allies who travelled all the way up from the south coasts to support Wulf in his invasion. His invasion of, first, Westfold, and subsequently the rest of Rohan.

If they happen to bring Mûmakil in tow, well is not that lore-accurate, too?

The Haradrim need not have invaded from the east at all. In fact, the invasion from the east is probably another, different folk. Rather, the Haradrim were with Wulf all along. And the Mûmakil? Well, what better weapon to overthrow the horselords? As we see in the Battle of the Pelennor Fields…

But wherever the mûmakil came there the horses would not go, but blenched and swerved away; and the great monsters were unfought, and stood like towers of defence, and the Haradrim rallied about them.

The Battle of the Pelennor Fields, The Lord of the Rings
battle of the pelennor fields by alan lee
The Battle of the Pelennor Fields by Alan Lee.

About the author: Staffer Demosthenes has been involved with TheOneRing.net since 2001, serving first as an Associate News Editor, then as Chief News Editor during the making of the Hobbit films. Now he focuses on features and analysis. The opinions in this article are his own and do not necessarily represent those of TheOnering.net and other staff.

If you have a Tolkien/Middle-earth inspired poem you’d like to share, then send it to poetry@theonering.net. One poem per person may be submitted each month. Please make sure to proofread your work before sending it in. TheOneRing.net is not responsible for poems posting with spelling or grammatical errors.

Partially hidden behind the show title on one of the new Amazon Prime The Lord of the Rings–The Rings of Power posters is a hammer handle bearing Cirth runes. They appear to say “AWAKE SLEEPING STONE”, which is appropriate since the poster seems clearly to portray a Dwarf, hands permeated with gold dust.

The words on the sword seem to translate as “Awake Sleeping Stone”

Perhaps the meaning behind these words can be discovered in The Silmarillion. When Aulë, one of the Valar, created the Dwarves in secret “in a hall under the mountains in Middle-earth”, he preempted Eru Ilúvatar’s desire that the Elves, the Firstborn of his design, be the first sentient beings in Middle-earth. Instead of destroying Aulë’s creations, Ilúvatar granted them life, but not until after the Elves were awakened. Ilúvatar tells Aulë:

“They shall sleep now in the darkness under stone, and shall not come forth until the Firstborn have awakened upon Earth; and until that time thou and they shall wait, though long it may seem. But when the time comes, I will awaken them…”

J.R.R Tolkien, The Silmarillion, Of Aulë and Yavanna

Or it could be that the inscription on the hammer refers to the Dwarves’ love of delving deep under the earth, awakening the stone to its potential to become vast and glorious halls, such as Menegroth, the realm of King Thingol and Queen Melian, and Moria, or as it is called in the Dwarven tongue, Khazad-dûm.

In regards to the runes that appear on the hammer, they are a system of writing called the Cirth, or the Angerthas. They were created by Tolkien and appear in a chart in the Lord of the Rings in ‘Appendix E: Writing and Spelling’. Historically, runes were used across Northern Europe during the Middle Ages by the Anglo-Saxons and Vikings. Tolkien borrowed from these sources and others to create his own unique set of runes. In Tolkien’s legendarium, the origins of the Dwarven runes as we know them date back to the Sindar and Noldor Elves, and the Dwarves did not come to learn them until the beginning of the Second Age, which fits in with the show’s timeline. The Elves later abandoned Cirth for Tengwar, used commonly to write Quenya and Sindarin. Cirth only represented the sounds of Sindarin, and were primarily used for engraving into stone, metal, or wood, the reason for the straight edges and angles of the letters. The Dwarves of Moria added to and expanded the Angerthas to serve their own language and purposes.

In translating the poster, there were two runes that confused the meaning at first. The first was the rune used for “ng” in “Sleeping”. The poster uses the rune for “nj” instead of “ng”. According to the LotR appendices, the “ng” rune was one of the newer cirth introduced by the Dwarves of Moria, though it does not say at what date. It does say “This Angerthas Moria is represented in the tomb-inscription.” Assuming this references Balin’s Tomb, the “ng” rune might not have been in popular usage until later than the series may portray. The second thing that tripped me up was the rune used for the silent “e” in “Awake” and “Stone”. The symbol for the silent “e” is given a value of “*” on the chart in the appendices, and it was only through further research that I was able to confirm the corresponding letter and sound.

It’s really wonderful to return to Arda! There is so much to look forward to when The Rings of Power airs this fall – and even sooner if these posters are any indication.