Greetings Ringers – Today TheOneRing.net is proud to share a Tolkienian analysis from esteemed Y.A. author/editor Henry Herz who takes us closer to the Irish myths mined by Guillermo del Toro for Hellboy II and the remarkable connections to Fëanor himself.

Irish Influences

Astute observers of the film Hellboy II: The Golden Army will note multiple references to Irish mythology. The full name of Hellboy’s antagonist is Nuada Silverlance. The first king of the Tuatha Dé Danann, the gods of Irish mythology, was Nuada Airgetlám (silver hand/arm). The Irish Nuada lost his limb fighting against the Fir Bolg at the first Battle of Mag Tuired. It was subsequently replaced with a silver one made by Dian Cecht, the god of healing, and a smithing god, either Creidhne or Goibniu (sources vary). Balor of the Evil Eye, a giant one-eyed Formorian leader kills the silver-handed Nuada twenty years later at the second Battle of Mag Tuired. In Hellboy II, Nuada’s Gaelic-speaking father is King Balor of Bethmoora in Northern Ireland.

On the one hand…

A lost hand like Nuada Airgetlám’s occurs more than once in myths, ancient and modern. The Professor himself was no stranger to tales of the Irish gods…nor the Norse. After all, the ferocious fettered Fenris Wolf takes off the god Tyr’s hand. Tolkien’s giant wolf Carcharoth similarly bites off Beren’s hand, and with it one of Fëanor’s treasured Silmarils.

“Tyr and Fenrir” by John Bauer (1911)

Hellboy II features three characters with missing hands. The main character, Hellboy, possesses an oversized, red stone Right Hand of Doom, grafted in place by his demon father, Duke Azzael. Although the movie does not emphasize the matter, King Balor’s left arm appears to be made of wood, ending in a silver hand—a clear wink at Irish mythology. Speaking of wink, the cave troll Wink wields a mechanical right hand that can be launched like a projectile and retrieved via a heavy chain—quite a handy feature.

But is there a more subtle linkage in play here? Did movie writer Mike Mignola and/or director Guillermo Del Toro derive inspiration from a more contemporary model for Nuada than Irish mythology? Was their fierce and tragic elf inspired by J.R.R. Tolkien’s character from The Silmarillion, Fëanor? The parallels are numerous and striking.

Copyright © 2008 Universal Pictures / Dark Horse Entertainment

Family Lost

Fëanor is a prince of the Noldor (deep elves), eldest son of King Finwë. His mother, Míriel, passes away after delivering so powerful a progeny, “consumed in spirit and body.” Finwë remarries and fathers two more sons, Fingolfin and Finarfin. Their father is murdered by Morgoth, the spark that will eventually set all Middle-earth aflame.

Like Fëanor, Nuada is an elven prince, the only son of King Balor of Bethmoora. Hellboy II makes no references to Nuada’s mother in either the action or its expository prologue. Her absence is as notable as Míriel’s. Nuada’s father is slain by his son’s own hand. Thus, both princes begin the tragic arc of their lives without mothers and later violently robbed of their immortal fathers.

The mighty sons of Finwë: Fëanor (red), Fingolfin (blue), Finarfin (yellow). Artist unknown.

Skills and Crafts

Fëanor is the most gifted smith in all Middle-earth and Valinor. He devises the Tengwar script used to write the Elven tongues Quenya, Telerin, and Sindarin. He crafts the palantíri, crystal spheres used for communicating over long distances. Fëanor’s greatest accomplishment was creating the three Silmarils, imperishable sacred jewels that captured the light of the Two Trees that illuminated the world. He is also credited with forging fell swords and tall helms with plumes of red. It is probably a safe assumption, then, that his sword would be of the highest quality and likely magical in nature. His prodigious fighting skills can be deduced from the fact that he battles multiple Balrogs without being pounded into elf-paste.

Fëanor faces Gothmog”: with permission of Turkish artist, Çağlayan Kaya Göksoy

Like Fëanor, Nuada is a fierce fighter. His superb sword play and athleticism is on full display in Hellboy II, thanks to actor Luke Goss. He demonstrates great skill with both swords and spear. The latter is magical, capable of lengthening at Nuada’s command, and if the tip of it is broken off in an enemy, it works its way toward the victim’s heart. He also evidences skill as a smith. We see him constructing a device to hold the seed of a forest elemental. And as one might expect of an elven smith, he seems impervious to heat when he recovers a metal cylinder from flames with his bare hand.

Copyright © 2008 Universal Pictures / Dark Horse Entertainment

Strife and Exile

His heart poisoned by Morgoth’s deceptions, Fëanor accuses his half-brother Fingolfin of plotting to usurp him as Finwë’s heir. The Valar (the gods) exile Fëanor to Formenos as punishment for threatening his brother’s life. There he stores the Silmarils with other treasure, and there Finwë joins him.

Fëanor threatens Fingolfin”: with permission of German artist, Jenny Dolfen

In the Hellboy II backstory, greedy humans wage war against the elves, goblins, trolls, and other magical creatures. A goblin master blacksmith offers to build King Balor an unstoppable mechanical army that can be controlled with a magical Golden Crown. Nuada persuades his father to accept the weapon and unleash the Golden Army against humanity. After widespread slaughter, a truce is reached. The horrified King Balor breaks the crown into three pieces so this ultimate weapon will not be used again. Enraged by his father’s decision not to finish off humanity, Nuada goes into self-imposed exile.

Rage and Kinslaying

With the giant spider Ungoliant’s aid, Morgoth mortally wounds the Two Trees that illumine the world. When the Valar ask to use the light trapped within the Silmarils to restore the stricken Trees, Fëanor refuses. “It may be that I can unlock my jewels, but never again shall I make their like; and if I must break them, I shall break my heart.” (Tolkien, 1977)

Morgoth murders Fëanor’s father at Formenos, steals the three priceless Silmarils, and flees to Middle-earth. Fëanor vows revenge, tinged with a racial element that Nuada echoes in Hellboy. “After Morgoth to the ends of the Earth! War shall he have and hatred undying. But when we have conquered and have regained the Silmarils that he stole, then behold! We, we alone, shall be the lords of the unsullied Light, and masters of the bliss and the beauty of Arda! No other race shall oust us!” (Tolkien, 1977)

Mad with grief and anger, Fëanor and his sons swear a terrible oath, leading many Noldor into exile from Valinor to pursue Morgoth and recover the Silmarils.

“They swore an oath which none shall break, and none should take, by the name even of Ilúvatar, calling the Everlasting Dark upon them if they kept it not…vowing to pursue with vengeance and hatred to the ends of the World Vala, Demon, Elf or Man as yet unborn or any creature, great or small, good or evil, that time should bring forth unto the end of days, whoso should hold or take or keep a Silmaril from their possession.” (Tolkien, 1977)

Fëanor”: with permission of Ukrainian artist
Bella Bergolts

When the seafaring Teleri refuse to lend the Noldor their ships for the journey to Middle-earth, Fëanor orders the vessels taken by force. Many Elven lives are lost in what came to be called the Kinslaying at Alqualondë.

Raging at human greed and the destruction they bring to the earth, Nuada vows to annihilate his enemy. He breaks his father’s treaty, murdering some humans to take possession of one of the three pieces of the Golden Crown. Nuada appears at his father’s court, demanding the other crown pieces from his sister and his father so he can order the Golden Army to wipe out humanity, saving the earth thereby. “I have returned from exile to wage war and reclaim our land, our birthright! And for that I will call upon the help of all my people and they will answer.”

But King Balor refuses, and when Nuada will not be dissuaded from his violent plans, Balor reluctantly orders his son killed. Instead, Nuada slays the royal guard and his father in the greatest sword fight scene in cinematic history. His sister flees with the final piece of the Golden Crown.

Copyright © 2008 Universal Pictures / Dark Horse Entertainment

Doom

Tragedy leads to more tragedy. The Valar lay a horrible curse, the Doom of Mandos, upon Fëanor and his followers for the Kinslaying. The Noldor must have shuddered to hear it.

“Tears unnumbered ye shall shed; and the Valar will fence Valinor against you, and shut you out, so that not even the echo of your lamentation shall pass over the mountains. On the House of Fëanor the wrath of the Valar lieth from the West unto the uttermost East, and upon all that will follow them it shall be laid also. Their Oath shall drive them, and yet betray them, and ever snatch away the very treasures that they have sworn to pursue. To evil end shall all things turn that they begin well; and by treason of kin unto kin, and the fear of treason, shall this come to pass. The Dispossessed shall they be for ever.”

“Ye have spilled the blood of your kindred unrighteously and have stained the land of Aman. For blood ye shall render blood, and beyond Aman ye shall dwell in Death’s shadow. For though Eru appointed to you to die not in Eä, and no sickness may assail you, yet slain ye may be, and slain ye shall be: by weapon and by torment and by grief; and your houseless spirits shall come then to Mandos. There long shall ye abide and yearn for your bodies, and find little pity though all whom ye have slain should entreat for you. And those that endure in Middle-earth and come not to Mandos shall grow weary of the world as with a great burden, and shall wane, and become as shadows of regret before the younger race that cometh after. The Valar have spoken.” (Tolkien, 1977)

Shortly after arriving on the shores of Middle-earth, Fëanor’s army is assaulted by Morgoth’s. The Elves are triumphant, and still enraged, Fëanor presses on toward Morgoth’s fortress at Angbad. Ambushed by a force of Balrogs, Fëanor is mortally wounded. He is denied his vengeance and instead Elves, Humans, and Dwarves must endure centuries of death and destruction inflicted by Morgoth until he is finally overthrown by the Valar.

Like Fëanor, Nuada will stop at nothing to see his plan complete. In the end, even he recognizes the depths of his own madness. When Hellboy defeats Nuada for control of the Golden Army, Nuada responds, “Kill me. You must. For I will not stop. I cannot.” Hellboy will not murder the elf. When Nuada moves to strike Hellboy from behind, Nuada is slain by his selfless sister’s suicide, the twins being magically linked. Hellboy has Liz destroy the crown with fire, reminiscent of when another potent talisman, the One Ring, melts in the fires of Mt. Doom.

Copyright © 2008 Universal Pictures / Dark Horse Entertainment

Fading and Melancholy

In The Fellowship of the Ring: Extended Edition, Samwise Gamgee observes Elves departing Middle-earth for Valinor, never to return. “It makes me sad. I don’t know why.” The Bethmooran elves are fading as well, as symbolized by the incongruously falling leaves inside Balor’s throne room. Nuada proclaims in the end, “We die, and the world will be poorer for it.” Whether or not Mignola and Del Toro modeled their Nuada on Tolkien’s Fëanor, they forged an entertaining and poignant movie in which, just as in The Silmarillion, we lament the passing of magic.

Ah! like gold fall the leaves in the wind,
long years numberless as the wings of trees!

From Namárië (Galadriel's Lament)

*Learn much more about Henry Herz’ Y.A. and Children’s books (and also the delightful works co-authored with his two sons) here at www.henryherz.com

References:
Tolkien, J.R.R., 1977. The Silmarillion, Quenta Silmarillion, “Of the Flight of the Noldor”

Notes:
The John Bauer and Celtic knot images are public domain from Wikimedia Commons.

The Second Age of Middle-earth was filled with adventure, deception, courage, and battle. It broke the continent and the world of Arda. Find out what took place and which characters and events might feature in Amazon’s Lord of the Rings on Prime.

Project Northmoor will be hosting its first livestream/webinar on September 22nd from the Oxford Centre for Fantasy and has chosen the upcoming Amazon series as the theme. Julia Golding, founder of the centre and author, will be joined by Paula Kalamaras, a fantasy writer and editor, and Tai Truesdell, a film maker and producer. They are all huge Tolkien fans as well and know far too much than is good for them about the Second Age. They will be discussing what happens in the Second Age and what, from the perspective of creatives, might be done with series.

There is a free sign up on the Project Northmoor page on Facebook, and they are inviting people to post questions there. The livestream will be on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/events/860362391512881?ref=newsfeed and YouTube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n22a0MyFzx0. Times are as follows: 7pm BST, 6pm GMT, 2pm EST, 11AM PST.

Bilbo’s Birthday Speech

Come join the Southern California TORn staff and Tolkien fans on Saturday, September 18, 2021, as we celebrate Bilbo and Frodo Baggins’ shared birthday in Griffith Park. The party will kick off at Noon, and run until about 6 pm. The biggest difference this year will be NO POTLUCK. Please bring enough food and drink for yourself and the group you will be attending with. As always, sunscreen, a hat and sunglasses, and maybe a popup for shade are all good things to bring in order to stay comfortable. We are returning to the Mineral Wells section of Griffith Park, which is near the Harding Golf Course. Please head to the Baggins Birthday Bash Facebook event page for directions and a map. https://www.facebook.com/events/193623342558178/

While this event is scheduled for Saturday, September 18, the dual issues of COVID restrictions and/or Wildfires could become an issue this coming week. Should LA County trigger a restriction of large gatherings or a Wildfire trigger evacuations in the region of Griffith Park, we will post a Cancelation notice to the FB page first, and if there is time, post here on the main website as well.

As for COVID restrictions, the LA County guidelines recommend masking outdoors only in the case of a Mega Event, and that has only happened once. We are recommending everyone have a MASK with them, ready to wear near groups of people and remove when eating and drinking. The outdoor setting should afford us more than enough space to social distance if it makes you feel comfortable. We would PREFER if everyone attending was fully vaccinated, but none of us are qualified to verify the CDC card, so we won’t be asking.

There is no doubt that the first promotional image from LOTR on Prime is simply amazing. But what is actually going on here?

Rather than blather on with superlatives, let’s just dive on in, and take a detailed look at what it reveals.

Fair warning, though: there will be spoilers for some key elements of The Silmarillion. So, if you’ve just started reading and you have no idea what happens and avoiding story spoilers is important to you, now is the time to step away!

The Two Trees

The obvious place to begin is the trees since, as Tolkien writes in The Silmarillion, “about their fate all the tales of the Elder Days are woven”. They’re also what firmly locates this panorama in Valinor — all our conclusions derive from their presence.

The Two Trees
The Two Trees of Valinor. Laurelin at front, with Telperion behind.

First, a description of the Two Trees of Valinor, taken from the same book.

[Telperion] had leaves of dark green that beneath were as shining silver, and from each of his countless flowers a dew of silver light was ever falling, and the earth beneath was dappled with the shadow of his fluttering leaves.

[Laurelin] bore leaves of a young green like the new-opened beech; their edges were of glittering gold. Flowers swung upon her branches in clusters of yellow flame, formed each to a glowing horn that spilled a golden rain upon the ground; and from the blossom of that tree there came forth warmth and a great light.

Of the Beginning of Days, The Silmarillion.

The trees in the LOTR on Prime panorama cannot be anything else. In the hidden city of Gondolin in Beleriand, Turgon famously created his own reproductions of the Two Trees in silver and gold. However, they emitted no light and were located within the city itself, not out on the plain. No, these are the Two Trees and that means this is Valinor.

You may wonder which tree is which.

My belief is that Laurelin — the tree of gold — is the one nearest the camera. Its shape more closely resembles that of the common beech (Fagus sylvatica). The dark trunk and boughs seem at odds with Telperion’s descritpion and the glow that emanates from it is a warm golden-yellow. And the silvery hue of the tree behind fits Tolkien’s vision of the Telperion much better.

The Two Trees: Alive? Or not?

The next key question is whether the trees are alive in this image. Is this the Years of the Trees? Or is LOTR on Prime using a clever fake-out as Professor Corey Olsen suggested may be the case on TORn Tuesday? Is the scene actually set later — long after Melkor and Ungoliant have paid their fateful visit — during the Years of the Sun, and the sun just happens to be positioned behind Laurelin?

The Two Trees -- level and brightness heavily adjusted
The Two Trees closeup with level and brightness heavily adjusted.

I’ve gone back and forth between the two opinions.

One the one hand, when you adjust the levels in the image and pull the brightness down, the light out of (or through) Laurelin dominates, while the glow emanating from Telperion is muted enough that it could simply be reflected sunlight.

We do know from The Silmarillion that the trees were preserved: “their lifeless stems stand yet in Valinor, a memorial of vanished joy.”

On the other hand, the trees do not appear lifeless stems. They are not “withered” and drained of life as The Silmarillion describes it. In fact, Telperion’s trunk positively gleams.

Nor do they seem brittle. The Silmarillion also states:

Yavanna arose and stood upon Ezellohar, the Green Mound, but it was bare now and black; and she laid her hands upon the Trees, but they were dead and dark, and each branch that she touched broke and fell lifeless at her feet.

Of the Flight of the Noldor, The Silmarillion.

Moreover, something about the way Telperion would be reflecting the sun just doesn’t seem right. The sun should be so far behind the trees that any reflection should be much more muted than shown. I’m no ray-tracing expert, though! (If you are and have a better idea, let us know.)

Nevertheless, I feel the weight of evidence leans to this showing a scene from The Years of the Trees sometime near the end of the Noontide of Valinor. Perhaps even the very end.

The city of white walls and towers

Next, there’s the city on the hill. I feel comfortable in saying that this is Tirion — the city of many white towers that the Noldorin and Vanyarin elves established together after first arriving in Valinor.

Tirion upon Tuna.
Tirion upon Tuna.

Tirion stands upon the hill of Túna at the entrance to the Calacirya (a Quenya word that translates as “The Cleft of Light”). To either side, you have the Pelóri — the immense mountain chain that walls off the interior of Aman from the rest of the world. By the time the Years of the Trees draw to a close, the Calacirya is more or less the only way through from the outside.

Conforming to that description, we see to the left and to the right in the image the slopes of steeply rising mountains. The southern side is most likely the northern shoulder of Taniquetil — the impossibly tall mountain where Manwë and Varda dwell.

However, there are some textual inconsistencies if you want to pick nits (and what are we here for if not to pick nits?).

First, there’s the city’s tall tower.

The Tower of Ingwë
The Tower of Ingwë. Note the absence of the light mentioned in the text of The Silmarillion.

This tower is the Mindon Eldaliéva. Notably, in The Silmarillion it is reported to feature a silver lamp that was said to “shine far out into the mists of the sea”. Famously, it guides the folk of Finarfin back to the city after they turn their backs on the rebellion of Fëanor. That lamp does not seem to be shining here.

…the highest of the towers of that city was the Tower of Ingwë, Mindon Eldaliéva, whose silver lamp shone far out into the mists of the sea. Few are the ships of mortal Men that have seen its slender beam.

Of Eldamar and the Princes of the Eldalië, The Silmarillion.

Additionally, despite looking closely at the city, I see nothing that could be Tirion’s own White Tree — Galathilion.

Yavanna made for [the Noldor] a tree like to a lesser image of Telperion, save that it did not give light of its own being; Galathilion it was named in the Sindarin tongue. This tree was planted in the courts beneath the Mindon and there flourished.

Of Eldamar and the Princes of the Eldalië, the Silmarillion.

Galathilion would surely have a unique appearance compared to the other flora of the city. And it would probably draw upon similar aesthetic to Peter Jackson’s depiction of the White Tree of Gondor. Admittedly, Gondor’s White Tree is quite dead when we see it in the Return of the King.

The White Tree of Gondor
The White Tree of Gondor from Peter Jackson’s The Return of the King.

The White Tree of Tirion might also not be especially prominent. It could be, compared to the structures about it, quite small. Or its placement might be out of picture, on the far side of the hill so it receives direct light from the Two Trees.

Finally, there’s the shape and position of Túna.

The Silmarillion states that after the Valar created a gap in the Pelóri, in the “deep valley that ran down to the sea the Eldar raised a high green hill: Túna it was called.”

Should Túna be more centrally located, rather than to one side of the Calacirya? Certainly, this is how Karen Wynn Fonstad envisages it — and her sketches in The Atlas of Tolkien’s Middle-earth were made with the backing of Harper Collins and the assistance of resources like the Boedlian Library.

Karen Wynn Fonstad's map of Valinor
Karen Wynn Fonstad’s map of Valinor shows Tirion raised upon a distinctly circular mound.

Nevertheless, the location feels more or less correct, and Wynn Fonstad’s cartography is not — as far as I know — explicitly textually supported. So the LOTR on Prime team probably can get away with playing it a little fast and loose even though they are certainly drawing on her maps.

The small river and the swan-prowed boats

Wynn Fonstad also documents one other geographical feature that is not revealed in the text of the Silmarillion — a stream or river that winds its way up the Calacirya toward Tirion. This probably explains the small river we see in the image. The question is whether it reaches all the way into the far distance. It’s hard to tell, but probably.

The white swan-prowed boats
Are these the ocean-going White Ships of the Teleri? Or rivercraft made in their likeness?

I feel that is less important than the opportunity to reveal several swan-prowed boats that we see upon the river. The question is whether these boats could be the famous White Ships of the Teleri — or smaller, but similar, pleasure craft.

The Silmarillion speaks of Alqualondë:

…the Haven of the Swans, lit with many lamps. For that was their city, and the haven of their ships; and those were made in the likeness of swans, with beaks of gold and eyes of gold and jet.

Of Eldamar and the Princes of the Eldalië, the Silmarillion.

Fëanor, of course, had those White Ships burnt after taking them by force from the Teleri in order to transport his folk to Beleriand during the Flight of the Noldor. If these are those White Ships, then this is another piece of evidence to place the image firmly within the Years of the Trees, before the destruction of Laurelin and Telperion.

The lone figure in white

Finally, we have the mysterious, lone figure in white in the foreground.

The figure in white
The figure in white has light-coloured hair, and carries a sword at the left hip.

This person is blond (or blonde), has short hair (or long hair in some sort of up-do), and is attired in what is typically regarded as elvish fashion. The pose also strongly suggests that the figure is carrying a sword at the left hip.

The presence of the sword is useful, as that would definitively place the action after the release of Melkor from bondage. As The Silmarillion records, it was Melkor who “spoke to [the Noldor] concerning weapons; and in that time the Noldor began the smithying of swords and axes and spears.”

If we accept there is a sword (likely, I think), and that the Two Trees are still alive (also likely, I think) we can narrow the time period for this image.

Melkor is released from captivity in Year of the Trees (YT) 1400 according to the Annals of Aman. By YT 1450 he’s been in the ear of the Noldor sowing dissension to the point where they start making weapons — swords, axes, and shields featuring personal insignia.

But, none of the Noldor carry their weapons abroad openly for a long time after that. Not until Fëanor recklessly and publicly puts a sword at the chest of his half-brother. That might allow us to place this image to sometime after the exile of Fëanor from Tirion, but before the destruction of the trees in YT 1495.

It’s worth noting here that, according to this same timeline, Galadriel is born in YT 1362. Galadriel would be a full-grown adult. It could be her.

Might Galadriel have carried a sword in her youth? I think she might have. During the rebellion of the Noldor, The Silmarillion records that:

…Galadriel, the only woman of the Noldor to stand that day tall and valiant among the contending princes, was eager to be gone. No oaths she swore, but the words of Fëanor concerning Middle-earth had kindled in her heart, for she yearned to see the wide unguarded lands and to rule there a realm at her own will.

Of the Flight of the Noldor, The Silmarillion.

A late essay of J.R.R. Tolkien’s that Christopher Tolkien recounts in Unfinished Tales reinforces this:

She was proud, strong, and selfwilled, as were all the descendants of Finwë save Finarfin; and like her brother Finrod, of all her kin the nearest to her heart, she had dreams of far lands and dominions that might be her own to order as she would without tutelage.

The History of Galadriel and Celeborn, Unfinished Tales of Middle-earth.

The same essay also underscores Tolkien’s vision of her exceptional physique and athleticism and how she “grew to be … strong of body, mind, and will, a match for both the loremasters and the athletes of the Eldar in the days of their youth.” Plus a letter from 1973 describes the youthful Galadriel in similar fashion (while also, potentially, explaining the seemingly short-cropped hair):

[Galadriel] was [in her youth] of Amazon disposition and bound up her hair as a crown when taking part in athletic feats.

Letter #348, The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien.

A Galadriel who in her early years of life is much more oriented to martial activities in not utterly out of Tolkien’s thinking.

Finally, there’s a treatise of Tolkien’s published in Morgoth’s Ring that outlines that while gender traditions — and individual occupational inclinations — exist among elves, these are by no means rigid, or absolute: “there are … no matters which among the Eldar only a [male elf] can think or do, or others with which only a [female elf] is concerned.”

Further, it concludes with the statement that “all … matters of labour and play, or of deeper knowledge concerning being and the life of the World, may at different times be pursued by any among the Noldor.”

If you don’t think this is possible for Galadriel, how else how do you explain Elrond’s trajectory from commander of Gil-galad’s expeditionary force to Eregion in the Second Age (and Herald of Gil-galad during the War of the Last Alliance) to renowned master of healing of the Third Age?

Other options for the figure in white

But, let’s say it’s not Galadriel. Who else might it be?

Hair colour immediately rules out most key Noldor of the time such as Finwë, Fëanor, Finrod, and Fingolfin. They are all dark-haired (as are the vast majority of Noldor). However, Galadriel’s father, Finarfin, or her grandmother, Indis, are options.

She was golden-haired, and tall, and exceedingly swift of foot. She laboured not with her hands, but sang and made music, and there was ever light and mirth about her while the bliss of Aman endured … and she walked often alone in the fields and friths of the Valar, filling them with music.

The Later Quenta Silmarillion II, The History of Middle-earth: Morgoth’s Ring.

Still, I don’t really see Indis as the sword-carrying sort. I might be wrong, but it doesn’t match my perception of her personality and her ambitions. Finarfin would, but some costumers have suggested that the outfit the figure wears is more reminiscent of Galadriel’s attire in Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings.

Galadriel in Peter Jackson's Fellowship of the Ring
Galadriel in Peter Jackson’s Fellowship of the Ring.

As an aside, I also like the concept of elves with short-cropped hair because it challenges an aesthetic that is ambiguously supported in canon. Would LOTR on Prime be brave enough to do that, though?

After that, we’re down to edge cases.

The radical options: Melkor or Sauron

We know that the Valar had no bodies but could assume shapes more or less at will. Morgoth’s Ring reveals that “after the coming of the Eldar they most often used shapes of ‘human’ form, though taller (not gigantic) and more magnificent”.

We don’t know Melkor’s precise form during those years before the destruction of the Two Trees. One revision (The Later Quenta Silmarillion (II)) probably made during the 1950s describes the countenance he presented to the elves as “most fair of all”. It was only after the trees had been destroyed that Melkor-as-Morgoth became fixed in the classical form we know from the Quenta Silmarillion that Chris Tolkien published in 1977 — the tall and terrifying figure clad in black armour who ever-so-reluctantly comes forth to duel Fingolfin.

However, The Silmarillion records that Melkor carried a black spear to the destruction of the Two Trees. Moreover, without any sign of his spider-shaped partner in crime, Ungoliant, there’s nothing conclusive to suggest this scene is a direct prelude to that event.

A similar shapeshifting argument applies to Sauron, who most famously assumes the fair form “Annatar” in order to win over the elven-smiths of Eregion. Sauron, of course, remained at-large in Middle-earth during the Years of the Trees, presumably busily refortifying the fortress of Angband while awaiting the return of his master.

It’s not out of the question that Sauron might have ducked across the great ocean for a bit of a peek at what was going on in Valinor with his master. Against that, such a journey is never mentioned. Still, keep in mind that Tom Shippey mentioned in an interview that LOTR on Prime has creative wiggle room as long as it doesn’t directly contradict what Tolkien himself wrote.

Why Sauron? Well, Sauron is, ultimately, the chief antagonist of this series. Alongside Galadriel, he is one of the very few consistent presences throughout Middle-earth’s history. An opening (or prologue) that directly involves Sauron may be another way for LOTR on Prime to establish the foundations of a series that is going to span a very long period of time.

The human options: Eärendil or Ar-Pharazôn the Golden

While Eärendil‘s hair colour is up for debate, he is the son of two golden-haired parents. Most art depicts him as a blonde.

But what truly interested me was the circumstances in which Eärendil arrives at Tirion: alone.

And he went up alone into the land, and came into the Calacirya, and it seemed to him empty and silent; for even as Morgoth and Ungoliant came in ages past, so now Eärendil had come at a time of festival, and wellnigh all the Elvenfolk were gone to Valimar, or were gathered in the halls of Manwë upon Taniquetil, and few were left to keep watch upon the walls of Tirion.

Of the Voyage of Eärendil and the War of Wrath, The Silmarillion.

I’ve always liked Ted Nasmith‘s illustration of this scene, and there’s something about the LOTR on Prime panorama that evokes that passage, too. The only thing that’s missing is anything that looks like the glow of a Silmaril for there those were “who saw him from afar, and the great light that he bore”. Like the Phial of Galadriel, the Silmarils emit their own light.

Eärendil Searches Tirion, by Ted Nasmith
Eärendil Searches Tirion, by Ted Nasmith.

Still, as Eärendil’s arrival in Middle-earth is the beginning of the closing act of the First Age, and leads more-or-less directly to the founding of Númenor, could something like this offer a tighter link to the major story that LOTR on Prime wants to tell?

Finally — more for the sake of elimination — there’s the last king of Númenor, Ar-Pharazôn the Golden.

For Ar-Pharazôn wavered at the end, and almost he turned back. His heart misgave him when he looked upon the soundless shores and saw Taniquetil shining, whiter than snow, colder than death, silent, immutable, terrible as the shadow of the light of Ilúvatar. But pride was now his master, and at last he left his ship and strode upon the shore, claiming the land for his own, if none should do battle for it. And a host of the Númenóreans encamped in might about Túna, whence all the Eldar had fled.

AKALLABÊTH, The Silmarillion.

But. The apparel on our lone figure isn’t really ideal for battle and war. Certainly not in the fashion reminiscent of our closest visual parallel to Númenór — the Arnorian and Gondorian warriors of the War of the Last Alliance. And the figures on river do not appear alarmed in the slightest — which they would if there was a vast, approaching army of Númenóreans behind the camera.

Finally, a curveball idea: what if it actually was Galadriel finally returning home at the very end of the Third Age? To start at the very end of the story, rather than the beginning.

In conclusion

After all that, what can we conclude? We’re looking at Valinor and the Two Trees. Definitively. And, despite a few topological and architectural quirks, we’re looking west from Tirion. I’m very confident of that, too.

But are those trees alive, or dead? I just can’t tell for sure. And it’s impossible to say for certain that the figure in white is Galadriel, even though it feels the most likely option.

But, since we are here to nail our colours to the mast, I will venture the following theory: the trees are alive, the figure is Galadriel, and this is somewhere near the end of the Noontide of Valinor.

Why? Primarily because in addition to the weight of evidence it simply makes the most sense to the story for the lone figure to be Galadriel. And — regardless of which Galadriel origin story you prefer — Galadriel left Valinor before the creation of the sun and the moon. Thus the trees must be alive.

I think. 🙂

Acknowledgements and thanks

This piece is not necessarily representative of the opinion of TORn staff. However, in assembling this, I have drawn on thoughts, theories and evidence that other staffers have been sharing over the last couple weeks. It would not have been nearly as good without their input. So, in no particular order, I’d like to thank JPB and Tookish for the long conversations, Mithril for the excellent find with Letter #343, Elessar, Josh, Kelvarhin, Garfeimao, Greendragon, Earl, and our TORn Tuesday team of Quickbeam and Justin.

Of course, any errors and oversights are my own.

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.

Brian Sibley and Pauline Baynes are names which will be instantly familiar to many Tolkien fans. Author, broadcaster and screenwriter Sibley scripted a radio version of The Lord of the Rings for the BBC, and his wonderful book The Maps of Middle-earth was illustrated by John Howe. Sibley also wrote The Making of the Movie Trilogy for Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings movies, and the three ‘Official Guides’ for his Hobbit trilogy.

Photograph of writer Brian Sibley

Artist Pauline Baynes, who died in 2008, worked with Tolkien himself, creating maps and illustrations for his works. Many fans will have had her art work on their walls, as she illustrated Middle-earth posters in the early seventies. Her work adorned covers of various editions of the Professor’s works, and she first collaborated with Tolkien when she illustrated Farmer Giles of Ham back in 1949. She also illustrated all of C S Lewis’ Narnia books.

Photograph of artist Pauline Baynes

Baynes and Sibley were friends for many years, and together they created a tale of Osric the Extraordinary Owl. TORn’s good friend Jay Johnstone has finally been able to publish this wonderful work, in a limited edition of just 250 – with a foreword by none other than Tolkien scholar Wayne G. Hammond! Here’s what the official press release tell us:

Osric the Extraordinary Owl resulted from the collaboration of two friends: artist and illustrator Pauline Baynes and writer, dramatist and broadcaster Brian Sibley. It was a friendship spanning more than two-and-a-half decades, with many shared interests, among them the work of J. R. R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis famously illustrated by Pauline and the subject of acclaimed dramatisations by Brian.

Sibley’s tale of a small grey owl in search of the courage to establish his individuality and ‘be himself’ (but which can be also be read as a ‘coming-out story’) was written in 1970 but had to wait until 2007 to find an artist at a time when Baynes was without any commissions and was wanting opportunities to keep drawing and painting. As a result she produced 22 delightful, double-page illustrations featuring not just Osric and his owl family but also an entire aviary of the most spectacular, colourful birds from black swans and peacocks to flamingos and toucans.

Baynes completed her pictures for Osric the year before her death in 2008 but ‘the extraordinary owl’ had to wait another decade to find a publisher. At the Tolkien Society’s 50th anniversary conference in 2019 noted Tolkien artist Jay Johnstone met Brian Sibley and another of Pauline’s friends, Wayne G. Hammond who, with his wife Christina Scull, is responsible for many key works of Tolkien scholarship and who, as Librarian of the Chapin Library of Rare Books at Williams College, Williamstown, Massachusetts, has curatorship of the Pauline Baynes bequest of paintings, drawings. Out of that Tolkien encounter came the decision to finally get Osric’s saga into print.

After a delay, caused by the Covid pandemic, Jay Johnstone is now pleased to announce the publication of Osric the Extraordinary Owl. This collector’s edition hardback book is written by Brian Sibley and illustrated by Pauline Baynes, with a foreword by Wayne G. Hammond. It is designed and produced by Jay Johnstone and comes in a gilded presentation box. Each book is individually numbered and comes with signed book plates by Brian, Wayne and Jay.

Photograph showing the cover of 'Osric the Extraordinary Owl', with a lovely grey and white owl against a blue, starry sky. Also shown is a two page spread inside the book, with an illustration of many varied birds.

Fans of Bayne’s art and Sibley’s writing will not want to miss out on this very limited release. You can find out more by clicking here.

Harper Collins has just released a preview of its forthcoming Tolkien book The Nature of Middle-earth.

The Nature of Middle-earth reveals for the first time J.R.R. Tolkien’s final notes and essays, covering topics ranging from “the metaphysics of Elvish immortality and reincarnation, and the Powers of the Valar, to more earth-bound subjects of the lands and beasts of Númenor, the geography of the Rivers and Beacon-hills of Gondor…” (according to the publisher blurb).

And a quick flip through shows that this is the case. I do wonder whether the information here about the nature of elves will come to supplant what’s in The History of Middle-earth‘s Law and Customs of the Eldar. Time will tell, I guess.

If you’ve read The Silmarillion, Unfinished Tales, or The History of Middle-earth, you’ll want to check this out. Just click the book cover image to head to the Harper Collins preview site.

The Nature of Middle-earth
The Nature of Middle-earth