Why do some Nazgûl thrive when commanded to hunt down their master’s stolen Ring while others falter under pressure? Why do some revel in the responsibility of throwing down their enemy when others wither like fog in strong sunlight?

You might not know it, but nine (count them!) keenly honed success habits keep them hot on the trail. Nazgûl apprentices, here are those nine instinctive habits that the most successful Ringwraiths draw on in their daily unlife to keep the Dark Lord number one. Read and learn.

1) Let your powers combine.

Captain Planet does it. Voltron does it. The Power Rangers too. So take heed: when it matters, ensure you gather under your fell leader so that even the Wise might fear to face you.

2) Wear black. Lots and lots of black.

Black never goes out of style. And the effect is scary as the Dickens when when you loom menacingly into view of your prey just as the light fades.

3) Embrace your hydrophobia!

Never forget that you and water do not get along. At all. In that sense, you might as well be the Wicked Witch-king of the West. Next time you consider fording that tiny creek? Think twice.

https://www.framecaplib.com/lotrlib/images/fotr/fotr0407.jpg

4) Don’t put a Ring on it, stick a Morgul Blade in it.

They say if you love it, put a ring on it. But only the Dark Lord may do that. Use a Morgul Blade to express your affection instead. It’s the smart way to ensure your new BFF will stay by your side always and forever!

5) Maintain a ready supply of remounts and robes.

There are few worse humiliations for a Ringwraith than having to crawl back naked and unclothed to your Dark Lord because you went for an impromptu dip and it all went pear-shaped. So for the love of Morgoth, pack extra robes (black, of course) and take a spare horse or an enormous flying raptor thing (or both!) just in case.

6) Let your minions do the dying for you.

Need to destroy the gates of the enemy fortress? Compel your horde of minions to do it for you! Drive them before you like cattle until they fear you more than the enemy’s darts and arrows. Don’t forget to ride to your glorious victory over the crushed, mutilated corpses of friend and foe for additional intimidation.

https://www.framecaplib.com/lotrlib/images/rotk/rotk1387.jpg

7) Remember, fear is your chief weapon.

And surprise. And fanatical devotion to The Po… err … Sauron. Anyway, the key point is intimidate your opponents (or your minions) until they give you what you want, or flee in terror.

https://www.framecaplib.com/lotrlib/images/fotr/fotr0543.jpg

8) Always stop to smell the roses.

Your sense of smell is even better than a labrador’s or a beagle’s. Only the foolish Nazgûl rush heedlessly ahead. Savour the scents and let your nose guide you to that which the Dark Lord desires.

9) Never reveal your name. Don’t encourage familiarity.

You are one of the Nazgûl, the chief and most-feared servants of the Dark Lord, not a camp counsellor. Be the Nameless Fear. Names are for lesser minions — and, seemingly, Khamûl. Because he just has to be different from everyone else.

https://www.framecaplib.com/lotrlib/images/rotk/rotk1721.jpg

Throwback to a post from some years ago, by the very excellent Staffer Demosthenes with help from LurkingLaurie.

Images from PJ’s LOTR via the very excellent FrameCapLib LOTR screecap project; and one from Ralph Bakshi’s LOTR (1978).

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.

Since the announcement of The War of the Rohirrim, I’ve been pondering how it might all come together. And, in particular, I’ve been pondering the potential role, actions and presence of Saruman.

Here’s why.

We know that after coming to Middle-earth (recorded as around TA 1000) Saruman does not settle down. He goes east (as do the Blue Wizards) into the lands beyond Mordor — presumably Harad, Khand and Rhûn. Unlike the Blue Wizards, he returns.

When is not precisely specified. However, in TA 2463 Galadriel summons the first meeting of the White Council (probably held in Rivendell). Given that the outcome of that meeting is that Saruman is appointed head of the council, he must surely have been present.

The White Council meets in Rivendell in Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit.

Might he have returned to the lands in the east following that? He may have. But another option occurs to me: a long sojourn in Minas Tirith — perhaps interrupted by occasional ventures into other lands.

`In former days the members of my order had been well received [in Gondor], but Saruman most of all. Often he had been for long the guest of the Lords of the City. Less welcome did the Lord Denethor show me then than of old, and grudgingly he permitted me to search among his hoarded scrolls and books.
‘”If indeed you look only, as you say, for records of ancient days, and the beginnings of the City, read on!” he said. “For to me what was is less dark than what is to come, and that is my care. But unless you have more skill even than Saruman, who has studied here long, you will find naught that is not well known to me, who am master of the lore of this City.”‘

The Council of Elrond, The Lord of the Rings

In fact, as the shiny new head of the White Council, Saruman may well have spent — on and off — several hundred years in Minas Tirith forging good relations with Gondor’s stewards because of its importance as a bulwark against the re-emerging threat of Mordor.

There is some support to be gleaned for this view from Unfinished Tales.

Now the White Messenger in later days became known Elves as Curunír, the Man of Craft, in the tongue of Northern Men Saruman; but that was after he returned from his many journeys and came into the realm of Gondor and there abode.

The Istari, Unfinished Tales of Númenor and Middle-earth

And key events occur in, or around, Gondor during that period. Attacks on Gondor began again in TA 2475. Osgiliath is finally ruined, and its stone-bridge broken. Then, in TA 2510 orcs and Easterlings overrun Calenardhon. Gondor is only saved by the assistance of Eorl the Young. That famous victory at the Field of Celebrant paves the way for the pact of then-Steward Cirion and Eorl that allows the Rohirrim to subsequently settle in Calenardhon.

These are all solid reasons for Saruman to spend time working behind the scenes in Minas Tirith during this period.

Set against all this, the headnote to Appendix B simply states that “Curunír journeyed often into the East, but dwelt at last in Isengard.” But, like, I said, he need not have been in Minas Tirith during all of that period.

At this point, Orthanc is long-unoccupied with the keys at Minas Tirith in the possession of the ruling Steward. Tolkien’s essay on The Palantíri describes how by the time of the rule of the Stewards only rustic “hereditary chieftains” remain in Isengard (Orthanc itself is empty and locked) and that even these are eventually supplanted, subverted, or slain, by Dunlendings.

It is this that gives the Dunlendings in TA 2758 — lead by Wulf — leverage for their campaign against Helm Hammerhand.

Concept art for The War of the Rohirrim showing showing Edoras being beseiged.

But, returning to Saruman, what might have he been doing during this period when both Gondor and Rohan are fighting for their very existence?

We know Saruman has the power to make a difference as Gondor struggled to repel the Corsairs raiding its own coasts. It also seems very possible he was residing in Minas Tirith at the time. But we also know he is constrained by the Valar’s exhortation to “avoid open display of power” and “seek to unite in love and understanding all those whom Sauron, should he come again, would endeavour to dominate and corrupt”.

Surely he wouldn’t just spend such a critical period merely sifting through Minas Tirith’s archives.

So let’s do some theory-crafting here.

What if Saruman had played some key role in repelling the Corsairs from the south Gondor coasts, allowing Gondor to finally come to Rohan’s aid? Surely that would earn him the gratitude of Gondor’s Steward and cement his reputation as a friend of the Dúnedain and the Rohirrim.

It need not have even been a dramatic display of power. After all, during the War of the Ring, Gandalf saves Theoden at Helm’s Deep through his efforts at gathering and coordinating those who opposed Saruman (and Sauron). He gathers the scattered forces of Erkenbrand. He gains the assistance of Treebeard and the loan of the Huorns.

Would Saruman have the humility to accomplish something in a similar vein? To be a facilitator rather than to seek to rule wills through open display of power? I’m not so sure about that — Unfinished Tales suggests that even at this point Saruman was disenchanted by the suggestion that Gandalf should head the White Council, and more generally jealous of the respect Gandalf was accorded. We don’t know for sure, but by this time he may even have been aware that Cirdan had given Gandalf the Narya, the ring of fire.

That might push Saruman to dramatic efforts to assist the Steward of the time, Beren, in repelling the Corsairs. Dramatic efforts that would gain greater recognition.

But what sort of efforts?

For The War of the Rohirrim anime, one answer might draw on the “canon” of the Peter Jackson films. In those, Saruman appears to harness the weather to command the snowstorm on the pass of Caradhras that dramatically halts the progress of the Fellowship.

Saruman summon the storm on Caradhras in the PJverse in The Fellowship of the Ring.

What if, during The War of the Rohirrim he was to do the opposite — exerting his powers to halt the Long Winter that so devastated the Rohirrim? Or at least to lessen its effects?

The Tale of Years records:

In that year (2758) the Long Winter began with cold and great snows out of the North and the East which lasted for almost five months. Helm of Rohan and both his sons perished in that war; and there was misery and death in Eriador and in Rohan. But in Gondor south of the mountains things were less evil, and before spring came Beregond son of Beren had overcome the invaders.

The Tale of Years, The Lords of the Rings

The section detailing the history of the House of Eorl further adds that winter broke soon after the death of Helm. No date is given, but given that Rohan lay under snow from November to March of 2758-9, one could reasonably deduce that the snowmelt began in early-mid April.

Perhaps, in this WarnerBros-verse, Saruman could lend his efforts to keep winter’s effects from devastating Gondor, and/or contribute to breaking its deathly grip on Rohan. This would allow Beregond (son of the Steward, Beren) the opportunity to oust the Corsairs from Gondor’s southern coasts. Beregond can then finally come to the aid of the Rohirrim just as Helm’s sister’s son and heir, Fréaláf, completes his breakout from the fastness of Dunharrow and manages to surprise and slay Wulf in Meduseld.

Rohan and Gondor are saved. Apart from the proposed influence of Saruman, all this is per Tolkien’s given history.

In the aftermath, a grateful Beren asks Saruman what reward he would have. Saruman simply requests the guardianship of Orthanc and the Ring of Isengard in order to, as outlined in Unfinished Tales, “repair it and reorder it as part of the defences of the West.”

Chris Lee as Saruman the White.

What of Saruman’s motives here?

The Tale of Years records that “at the crowning of Fréaláf that Saruman appeared, bringing gifts, and speaking great praise of the valour of the Rohirrim. All thought him a welcome guest.”

He earns not just great prestige, but a seat of power that provides clear control over the Gap of Rohan. Was he intent on consolidating a powerbase even at that point? Or sensibly plugging a hole in the defences of the free peoples of Middle-earth?

Unfinished Tales records that Saruman “had no doubt from his investigations gained a special knowledge of the Stones… and had become convinced that the Orthanc-stone was still intact in its tower.” It further adds that if the then-Steward, Beren, considered the Stone at all when he handed over Orthanc’s keys “he probably thought that it could be in no safer hands than those of the head of the Council.”

In itself that is not damning as to Saruman’s intent. What is dubious is that Saruman never reports the existence of the Orthanc to his colleagues. But it’s not until TA 2850 that he sends servants to search in secret for the Ring at the Gladden Fields. The Tale of Years suggests that it was around that time that Saruman had begun to desire the the Ring for himself. Finally, in TA 2953 he completely stops cooperating with other members of the Council and begins spying on Gandalf.

Regardless, there’s an opportunity for director Kenji Kamiyama to include Saruman in The War of the Rohirrim as more than someone who merely shows up to occupy Orthanc at the end of the film. It will be interesting to see if (and how) he uses that opportunity.

The Lord of the Rings: The War of the Rohirrim

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.

In the early 1990s, Russian director Roman Mitrofanov began working on an animated version of The Hobbit. The effort ultimately fizzled in the dissolution of the Soviet Union, but six minutes of footage survives and can be watched on Youtube to this day.

The footage functions more or less as a prologue that shows not much more than the destruction of Erebor and Dale by Smaug, and was clearly intended to be just the beginning of a complete adaptation.

It’s also full of delightful details such as the bells and the toy-market that Thorin Oakenshield describes to Bilbo during the Unexpected Party.

They built the merry town of Dale there in those days. Kings used to send for our smiths, and reward even the least skilful most richly. Fathers would beg us to take their sons as apprentices, and pay us handsomely, especially in food-supplies, which we never bothered to grow or find for ourselves. […] and the toy-market of Dale was the wonder of the North.

The Hobbit
Treasures under the Mountain, an incomplete Russian adaption of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit from 1991.

The bucolic imagery of Dale also includes a brief view (at approximately 2 mins 12 secs) of several people flying kites over the town square. If one squints just right (the quality is only 360p), one might construe one as having the shape of a dragon even.

Peter Jackson’s rendition of Dale shares many of the same details. Of course, this should not be surprising — they pull from the same source. But an inspection of the text of The Hobbit reveals no mention the people of Dale having kites or gliders. There’s nothing similar in The Lord of the Rings, either, not even when Frodo reminisces with Glóin in Rivendell.

This prompts the question: might Jackson — or one of his crew — have seen the Russian animation, liked the concept, and been inspired to use the kites in a similar fashion as a beautiful and poignant foreshadowing device?

Props to Ringer Raurenkili for the find.

The PJ Dragon kite at Dale from The Hobbit

You’ve probably noted that in the various promo imagery we’ve seen, Galadriel bears a star-shaped emblem. It’s most prominent on her breastplate, but in the teaser trailer we also see the device used as shoulder pins.

The device that Galadriel bears upon her plate armour (left), and on either shoulders in the teaser trailer.

Is it some sort of heraldic device? If so, is it meant to be a personal device? Is it one for elves in general? Specifically for Noldorin elves? Or a particular branch of Noldor?

Let’s examine.

As I noted in my analysis of the Rings of Power Sun Sword poster, Tolkien developed a codified system of heraldic devices — examples of which can be found on the covers of the first UK edition of the Silmarillion. Many key characters involved in events of the First Age have their own associated device that they — and those of their house — employed.

Galadriel is not among those, though. We have no Galadriel device for direct comparison. Instead we must look at those of her near — and far — relatives.

Tolkien’s elven heraldry. Redrawn by Elenyanar and arranged by FromMidworld.

Finarfin’s eight-rayed lozenge-shaped device (see above middle-left) offers a lot of similarity. However, the rays do not taper in the same way as the devices Galadriel bears in The Rings of Power material. That being said, there is an intriguing note that “this device was also used by Finarfin’s heirs, and apparently especially Finrod (though he was also given another device).”

This becomes more curious since in The Rings of Power teaser trailer we see Finrod wearing the exact same device as Galadriel in a scene where he and other elves battle desperately against a host of orcs. Could this device be a House of Finarfin thing?

Well, we also see in the same scene that some of Finrod’s equally embattled retinue sport the self-same device. Now, one might observe that folk of Finrod’s own house might bear the same device. Absolutely, they might.

Both Finrod and his embattled retinue bear the same sigil on their armour in the flash scene we see near the end of the first teaser trailer. I’ve brightened this screenshot to make the sigils more visible.

The same device is also present on the shoulder of the as-yet-unidentified fellow caught up in an unfortunate encounter with some kind of troll in the Amazon teaser trailer. Is that another member of Finarfin’s house? Could it be Angrod, or Aegnor? As yet, we don’t know for sure.

This unknown person — clad in a similar maille outfit as Galadriel in the teaser trailer — bears the same symbol pinned on the shoulder in the exact same position. Again, this image is slightly brightened for better visibility although it’s tricky to get a crisp focus.

One also observes the exact same device on the waist of the attire of an individual dressed in gold on one of the The Rings of Power teaser posters and in the teaser trailer. We believe this individual to be Gil-galad.

Now, Gil-galad is not of Finarfin’s house; he wouldn’t wear Finarfin’s device. In fact, Tolkien gives Gil-galad his very own device — one of white stars set on a blue field (or sky). This seems to be a strong argument against any conclusion that it’s Finarfin’s device. It seems we must search elsewhere for better answers.

UPDATE: please check the bootnote at the end for an addendum on Gil-galad’s parentage.

Gil-galad bears the exact same symbol at the waist of his attire in both teaser poster, and teaser trailer.

Arguably, Eärendil’s sign might be something they could all unite under — if it matched. The Silmarillion recounts how he become a symbol of hope for all:

Now when first Vingilot was set to sail in the seas of heaven, it rose unlocked for, glittering and bright; and the people of Middle-earth beheld it from afar and wondered, and they took it for a sign, and called it Gil-Estel, the Star of High Hope. And when this new star was seen at evening, Maedhros spoke to Maglor his brother, and he said: ‘Surely that is a Silmaril that shines now in the West?’

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

Some support for this perspective can be gleaned from one of the Vanity Fair “First Look” images. In the one that seems to show Galadriel and Elrond re-uniting in Lindon, there is a large tapestry in the background. This tapestry shows a stylised rayed star very similar to those worn by Galadriel, Gil-galad, Finrod and others.

Elrond and Galadriel are reunited in the majestic elven kingdom of Lindon. Courtesy of Amazon
Studios. Note the the ship on the background behind them and the eight-rayed star at the very top of image.

This tapestry also depicts a ship or a boat, seemingly travelling toward, or guided by, the rayed star. Although probably a representation of a ship of the elves taking the journey to Valinor (it’s not yet the Straight Road because this is still the Second Age), the effect of the tapestry still feels evocative of the Star of High Hope mentioned above.

However, the heraldry of Eärendil is a six-pointed star, not one with eight points. I guess elven representations of Gil-Estel could be different — but the fact remains that what we see is just not Eärendil’s emblem.

There is one star that does seem a better visual fit: the Star of Fëanor that we encounter in the Lord of the Rings on The Doors of Durin at the west-entrance to Khazad-dûm.

‘There are the emblems of Durin!’ cried Gimli.
‘And there is the Tree of the High Elves!’ said Legolas.
‘And the Star of the House of Fëanor,’ said Gandalf.

A Journey in the Dark, The Lord of the Rings
The Doors of Durin from The Lord of the Rings as sketched by J.R.R. Tolkien. The Star of Fëanor can be seen at the centre of the image.

Like the emblem of Finarfin, there is a resemblance: eight rays and a distinct tapering. Perhaps more resemblance because of the tapering. Yet, it is also not exact: the four ordinal points are noticeably shorter than those we see on the device Tolkien created for The Doors of Durin.

There are additional (non-visual) contradictions.

Galadriel wouldn’t wear a symbol of the House of Fëanor. First, she’s of Finarfin’s house and would use his badge first. Second, Tolkien observes in Unfinished Tales that Galadriel had an abiding dislike of Fëanor. It’s that simple.

Just as importantly, Gil-galad wouldn’t either — not even as some symbol of solidarity. That’s because, throughout the Second Age, Gil-galad is the (undisputed) high-king of the Noldor in Middle-earth. The House of Fëanor is subsidiary to him in the Noldorin hierarchy.

Maedhros begged forgiveness for the desertion in Araman; and he waived his claim to kingship over all the Noldor, saying to Fingolfin: ‘If there lay no grievance between us, lord, still the kingship would rightly come to you, the eldest here of the house of Finwë, and not the least wise.’ [and] even as Mandos foretold the House of Fëanor were called the Dispossessed, because the over-lordship passed from it, the elder, to the house of Fingolfin, both in Elendë and in Beleriand.

Of the Return of the Noldor, The Silmarillion

Unfortunately, none of the options above fits neatly — every option creates unsatisfactory questions.

If this is the case, this prompts the question: why the lack of a good match?

Likely, the answer simply boils down to the intellectual property rights that Amazon holds for its TV series. (You might note that PJ’s Gil-Galad actually bears his Tolkienian heraldic symbol. The reason is probably down to a difference in the rights available.)

The showrunners have clearly stated (via Vanity Fair) that Amazon bought rights “solely to The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, The Return of the King, the appendices, and The Hobbit.” Nothing else.

That would place all the heraldic devices that Tolkien crafted out of reach — except the Star of Fëanor. But the showrunners are likely well-aware of the lore-clash of directly applying the Fëanorian star unilaterally.

Instead, it appears they’ve opted for something similar, but not exact — a generic derivation that they hope is symbolically evocative of elven heraldry and the elven reverence for Varda as the Lady of the Stars without directly contradicting one of the more obscure parts of the Legendarium (I love this stuff, but let’s face it — it is super-obscure).

That’s what I suggest is most likely occurring here.

Have they succeeded with that? On this point, I’m not convinced. Yes, it’s evocative — without a doubt. Yet the design still seems a little too similar to Fëanor’s star. I think it also leaves their hands tied when it comes to Celebrimbor. Because Celebrimbor should be the one using the Fëanorian star. Now, if they do try to replicate that, precisely as shown in The Lord of the Rings, will it even look different enough for us to notice?

BOOTNOTE: AlexP reminded me of something that I’d forgotten: Gil-galad’s parentage is complicated. The Silmarillion and Unfinished Tales as edited by Christopher Tolkien state that Gil-galad is the son of Fingon. Later, in preparing The History of Middle-earth, CJRT decided this was an editorial error and that his father’s final decision was that Gil-galad was a son of Orodreth. At the same time, Tolkien switched Orodreth to being a son of Angrod.

What does that mean?

Well, if Amazon were to leave the parentage of Gil-galad implied rather than stated (CJRT himself felt he should have, in retrospect left it obscure in The Silmarillion), then maybe Tolkien Estate would allow it. All three wearers of the badge — Galadriel, Gil-galad and, we presume, our unknown troll fighter — become Finarfin’s heirs. As such it could be argued that it’s fitting for them to use his symbol for the reasons discussed above. It could be a gesture of family solidarity. Even the star we see in the tapestry in the Gala-Elrond image is a fit, because Lindon is the heart of Gil-galad’s kingdom.

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.

Acknowledgements: I got a lot of assistance from keen-eyed folks on our Discord in pulling this together. So in no particular order (and apologies to anyone else who contributed that I’ve missed), many thanks to DurinDeathless, LadyNico, Lasswen, AlexP, SirSquatch, Sid and Sir Skrilldor.

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.

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.