It’s here. If you haven’t seen the Rings of Power teaser already, check it out below! It’s shorter than I’d hope, but raises plenty of questions. And it looks pretty excellent!
If you were eagle-eyed, you might have noticed that the other day I briefly put up an article postulating that Glorfindel is a convincing option for the Sun Sword poster.
Unfortunately, shortly after, an eagle-eyed redditor pointed out an additional key piece of evidence I was unaware of. That evidence instantly brought the article’s conclusion into doubt. After a lot of thinking, I’m republishing the article in part, supplemented with some analysis of the current leading theory: Elendil.
You could says this is a somewhat of cautionary tale about the limitations of analysis: you can build the strongest chain of logic, and still be wrong if a premise is incorrect. I also hope it draws some useful conclusions though.
The Glorfindel theory
The real draw is the sun imagery. The sigil on the sword pommel draws the eye, but it’s also (imprecisely) echoed on chest of the individual holding the sword.
And this is what got me thinking.
In the original account of the Fall of Gondolin, Tolkien describes Glorfindel’s folk, the people of The House of the Golden Flower, like so:
There stood the house of the Golden Flower who bare a rayed sun [emphasis mine] upon their shield…The Book of Lost Tales II: The Fall of Gondolin.
Fact: the device of Glorfindel’s house is a rayed sun.
Tolkien also invested an enormous amount of effort into developing a complex system of elven heraldry and emblems. An account of it can be found in the Hammond and Scull book J.R.R. Tolkien: Artist and Illustrator. I don’t own a copy, but accounts of it can be found on the internet.
Now, notice that on Sun Sword, the pommel of the sword has 12 rays touching the edge of the design. In elven heraldry, that is indicative of an individual with very high ancestry. Of the examples that Tolkien provides, only Idril Celebrindal has as many rays touching the edge of her emblem’s design; only Finwë the High King of the Noldor has more.
Glorfindel, is of course, not an elven king.
But his ancestry would be considered high — elevated by his noble actions and self-sacrifice in the wreck of Gondolin, his subsequent and early re-embodiment in Valinor and his close association with the Maiar (See The Peoples of Middle-earth: Last Writings).
As Tolkien developed his character down the years, Glorfindel is simply an exceptional individual by the time of his return to Middle-earth in (according to Last Writings) the early or middle of the Second Age.
That exceptional stature might just be enough to gain the honour of an emblem with 12 rays.
Set against that, note that the design is circular. A circular design is typically used for elven ladies (Idril, Lúthien, Melian). Those for elven males are all lozenge-shaped. The picture above shows some examples.
There’s a little more, too.
If we examine the sleeves of the Sun Sword individual, we see they are green, patterned with gold.
At the sack of Gondolin, Glorfindel marched into battle wearing:
…Glorfindel bare a mantel so broidered in threads of gold that it was diapered with celandine as a field in spring; and his arms were damascened with cunning gold.The Book of Lost Tales II: The Fall of Gondolin.
Celandine is a plant with a golden flower — very likely the golden flower that Glorfindel’s house is named for — and deep, green leaves. Wikipedia lists three species and visually, they all look very striking. One species, pictured below, is regarded by many in the UK as a harbinger of Spring.
According to a costumer friend, the sleeves could be argued to be “damascened” in this way.
In summary, there are sufficient superficial visual cues that you can make a solid case for this theory based on descriptions of Glorfindel and his house symbols that are given in The Fall of Gondolin, and some clever application of elven heraldry.
As I discovered (after posting my article) the individual in the Blue Robe poster bears the exact same device as we see on Sun Sword. This is a theory killer — in the Second Age Glorfindel’s house symbol should be unique to him. No-one else would have it. No-one.
Long story short, I think it’s just super-unlikely. Sorry, Glorfindel supporters!
The Elendil theory
Right now, the (widely accepted) rumour is that Blue Robe is Ar-Pharazôn the Golden — the 25th (and last) of the kings and queens of Númenor. I’m going to accept this as a working assumption.
But what of the evidence for Elendil?
First, we may note that the armoured sleeves (vambraces?) bear a stamp that resembles a fish (you can see what appear to be fins if you look closely). Additionally, there is a wave pattern on the chest at the middle of the sun emblem.
Now, in the text of AKALLABÊTH, The Silmarillion describes Elendil (and his father Amandil) as great ship-captains.
That’s suggestive. It’s also about as far as we can get from pure visual analysis.
But, turning to the lore, we know that Amandil and Ar-Pharazôn were once quite close. Ar-Pharazôn was also very active at sea before he took the Sceptre of Númenor.
In the days of their youth together Amandil had been dear to Pharazôn, and though he was of the Elf-friends he remained in his council until the coming of Sauron. Now he was dismissed, for Sauron hated him above all others in Númenor.AKALLABÊTH, The Silmarillion
The Unfinished Tales states that most of the Númenorean chieftains posses what is described as heirloom swords. Yet “at times they would still give a sword as a gift to their heirs”. Additionally:
A new sword was made for the King’s Heir to be given to him on the day on which this title was conferred.Unfinished Tales, Description of the Island of Númenor
Finally, a note in Unfinished Tales states that the King’s sword is actually Aranruth — the personal sword of Thingol, the Sindarin king of Doriath. Handed down through Dior, Earendil, Elros, it’s an important link to the elven heritage of the Númenorean kings.
Assembling these facts, it’s possible to postulate the following: when Tar-Palantir dies and Ar-Pharazôn becomes king, he takes up Aranruth. But then he has this other sword leftover — the sword he received as King’s Heir.
At this point, he and Amandil are still friends. Because Sauron doesn’t enter the scene until years later. So he gives his King’s Heir sword to Amandil as a gift. I expect that Amandil would treasure this — and all the more so as they grow increasingly distant as politics force them apart.
I was stumped here for a bit: why would Amandil then hand that sword to Elendil?
Here’s my thought: As Ar-Pharazôn’s reign progresses, life becomes ever-more-dangerous for the Faithful. Elendil must be known as one of the Faithful. That makes him a target for the King’s Men faction. If Elendil were going to sea — maybe as a member of the Venturer’s Guild — he could find himself isolated among a group hostile to his views.
Thus Amandil gives Elendil the King’s Heir sword as protection — an indirect sign of the King’s favour.
However, current scuttlebutt insists that the Sun Sword is Narsil (I can’t speak to the truth or falsity of that rumour — it’s not my wheelhouse). If that’s the case, the above scenario doesn’t work for two reasons:
- A personality as avaricious as Ar-Pharazôn would surely not give away a sword with a history stretching back into the mists of the First Age. Ar-Pharazôn is the greediest of all Númenor’s rulers.
- UT states that the King’s Heir sword is a brand-new sword that is forged for each heir.
The first is highly suggestive, and the second is conclusive.
Still, I love the pathos of this concept.
Examining the sword
But, what if the sword is Narsil? If that’s the case, why does Blue Robe’s device match that of the sword? Should it still not be unique to Narsil alone?
We know that Telchar, a dwarf of Nogrod, forged Narsil sometime in the First Age. But we don’t know precisely when, and we don’t know for whom. All we know is that, eventually, it makes its way to the hands of Elendil.
One easy supposition, I think, is that this was an heirloom sword of the Lord of Andunie. As I pointed out, Unfinished Tales states that many Númenorean chieftains posses heirloom swords.
Now, it’s not impossible that Telchar may have made Narsil for someone of very high ancestry — perhaps even an elf, originally. This would explain away the heraldry issue — that there are so many rays striking the edge of the pommel design. Telchar simply made Narsil for someone of superlative rank.
Who? I’m not sure and this is a weak link. Thingol and, subsequently, Dior already have Aranruth. Gondolin is off the table. One of the sons of Feanor, perhaps? Both Maglor and Maedhros survive until the end of the Quenta. Maglor is kidnap-dad — I mean, foster-father — to Elrond and Elros after the Third Kinslaying.
Could Narsil have been made for Maglor? Could Maglor have gifted Narsil to Elros? Not impossible, I think.
It then descends through the royal house of Númenor, but when Silmarien doesn’t get the throne, she gets Narsil (in addition to the Ring of Barahir). But the royal house retains the sun heraldry — as in Blue Robe’s brooch — because it’s also part of their heritage.
This seems … a plausible chain of logic.
The other thing in favour of the Narsil argument is that there is a hollow disc cut in the pommel. This hollow pommel evokes (though it is not the same as) the hollow pommel of the Peter Jackson rendition of Narsil (and Anduril).
But, there are some arguments against Narsil.
It does have an oddly ceremonial look; the design seems quite gaudy with the gold sheen and the heavy carvings on the upper end of the blade. One of my fellow analysts pointed out that if the inlays and carvings extend much further toward the tip, they would compromise its usefulness in battle.
Additionally, we see only sun symbology on the sword and it does not shine like described in The Silmarillion.
The host of Gil-galad and Elendil had the victory, for the might of the Elves was still great in those days, and the Númenóreans were strong and tall, and terrible in their wrath. Against Aeglos the spear of Gil-galad none could stand; and the sword of Elendil filled Orcs and Men with fear, for it shone with the light of the sun and of the moon, and it was named Narsil.The Silmarillion, Of the Rings of Power and the Third Age
“Shine” could mean solely in the presence of orcs, but isn’t that a trait restricted to blades made by the Noldor of Gondolin?
Finally, we see a lot of sun symbology on Sun Sword. But nothing of the moon. Narsil is a Quenya name meaning “red and white flame”. Tolkien explains in a letter that it “symbolised the chief heavenly lights, as enemies of darkness, Sun (Anar) and Moon (in Q) Isil.”
The question is, what’s on the reverse side? It could be an equivalent moon symbology. If so, I believe that would be sufficient confirmation that this sword is Narsil.
So, what are we left with after all this?
The Glorfindel argument is difficult to sustain. Elendil is plausible, as is Narsil but there are other lore-friendly explanations for the sword at least. In the absence of further evidence, we have to rely on the veracity of the rumour-mongers, or withhold final judgement.
Bootnote: Glorfindel is, of course, a named character in The Lord of the Rings. The rights situation is … well, it’s murky until someone actually goes on the record. But it’s typically believed that Amazon Studios can use the bits it needs from the Second Age in Unfinished Tales, and The Silmarillion (most likely the Akallabeth account and Of the Rings of Power and the Third Age). Anything else they need to go to Tolkien Estate and justify the need. It seems Tolkien Estate is willing to listen if the reason is good. If they wanted to give Glorfindel verisimilitude, this might just fit the bill.
Acknowledgements: I got a lot of assistance from keen-eyed and incisive folks on our new 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, Sid, Nathan, and Sir Skrilldor.
Yesterday Amazon Studios premiered their trailer for the Wheel of Time series that’s based on the fantasy novels of the late Robert Jordan (and Brandon Sanderson). You can see it here if you haven’t already.
One notes that the series itself is slated to debut on November 19, 2021 — that’s roughly 10 weeks away.
That got me thinking, and I did a tiny bit of digging.
Turns out that Good Omens — also produced by Amazon Studios — had a roughly 10-week lead time from trailer to series debut. The first full trailer for Good Omens debuted on March 6, 2019. The series debuted on Prime on May 31, 2019.
Given LOTR on Prime will debut on September 2, 2022, might we then expect a trailer no later than mid-June next year?
However, two data points is a slim thing to build a prediction upon, and I’m just wild-guessing here. (Emphasis and disclaimer: this is speculation based upon publicly available information, not a rumour).
But Amazon loves an algorithm and I feel this coincidence is waggling its eyebrows at me suggestively.
Maybe mark your calendar in pencil, but don’t bet the house.
Here’s a question. If you’re LOTR on Prime, and if your main series material is centered on the Second Age, why tease/lead with an image that show something from a vastly earlier period in the history of Tolkien’s world?
I’ve been pondering this a lot.
Unless LOTR on Prime has gone collectively mad, then there has to be a purpose — some link between that panorama, and the Second Age story that we know is coming.
So, let’s analyse that.
The location itself may offer a link.
Why? Because Númenor — much, much later — tries to invade Valinor. Problem is, that period of Númenor’s history has little to do with the dwarf-elf interactions we seem to be promised if spy reports are correct. So, it’s probably not Valinor itself that’s important, nor the Two Trees in themselves (sorry TREES! fans, I empathise).
That leaves the events that happen in Valinor, and the key protagonists in those events.
Events are — by and large — resolved by The War of Wrath. However, some of those protagonists remain and become involved in the new dramas of the Second Age in Middle-earth (and Númenor).
And I feel this could offer a clue to what’s going on.
Of the chief actors through the events of the Second Age, I can think of four (five, technically) who are also players in during the final Years of the Trees.
The first is Sauron. But the link between Sauron and Valinor/The Two Trees is tenuous to non-existent. According to The Silmarillion, he rebelled much earlier and then spent much of Melkor’s imprisonment lurking in and around Angband. He doesn’t really feature strongly in First Age events until Beren and Lúthien’s quest.
Neither the trees — nor any of the events that occur around them — are useful to solidify the background of Sauron for the audience. If you wanted to use Sauron as a link, you’d need to begin somewhere else. For this reason I eliminate Sauron.
Galadriel and Celeborn
The next two come as a pair: Galadriel and Celeborn.
Here, it’s a twofold opportunity.
One, it’s a way to establish Galadriel’s prominence among the Noldor, and the strength of her ambition. Recall Galadriel’s role in the rebellion of the Noldor and their exile. Fëanor is instigator, but in the Silmarillion version she is also involved:
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.
My thinking is that portraying some of Galadriel’s early life in Valinor could be used as a way to support her desire and capacity to (at least to according one tradition outlined in Unfinished Tales) establish Eregion much later in the Second Age with the assistance of Celeborn.
It would also serve to underpin — whether through continued pride, or Ban (or both) — why she did not return to Valinor for so long. There’s vast amounts of drama to be wrung here should LOTR on Prime do it right. A sort of “How I became a massive troublemaker and learnt to love the Ban” sort of thing.
Galadriel is also LOTR on Prime’s most natural and relatable link to Peter Jackson’s movies: well-liked and well-remembered even among those who aren’t Lord of the Rings aficionados.
Next is Celebrimbor. To my surprise (for I wasn’t aware of it until very recently), Tolkien outlined that Celebrimbor was born in Valinor during the Years of the Trees, not in Beleriand during the First Age. That he subsequently followed his father, Curufin, into exile, while his mother remained behind, suggests to me that he was well into adulthood by the time of the Noldor’s rebellion against the Valar.
His identity as the grandson of Fëanor makes him a close witness to events in Valinor while his (presumably) growing talents as a smith and craftsmen can be contrasted against the immense skill of Fëanor (and Galadriel). In particular, Fëanor’s achievements with the Silmarils could be used as a dramatic spur for his own creations.
For Celebrimbor, Eregion is not so much a place to rule but a place where he can be free to create with the ultimate aim of someday surpassing the works of his grandfather. Celebrimbor is also a more natural tie for recent spy reports of dwarves and elves meeting. Unless it’s a very frosty meeting, that’s not very likely to be one involving Galadriel and Celeborn (even if Galadriel is not entirely unreceptive to dwarves).
Glorfindel is the final option. Also an exile, also born in the Years of the Trees. Coincidentally, also blonde. As The Fellowship of the Ring describes it, “his hair was of shining gold”.
Moreover, Glorfindel returns to Middle-earth sometime during the Second Age to play a role in helping keep Sauron at bay after he forges the One Ring. Tolkien writes that this was probably sometime between SA1200 and SA1600 though, and I wonder whether even the first full season would get that far.
Any other elf is a poor fit.
Cirdan did not make the journey to Valinor. Gil-galad is too young — born near the end of the First Age in Beleriand. Elrond is in the same boat. And the rest of the chief Noldorin exiles either died in the long wars against Melkor, or returned to Valinor at the conclusion of the War of Wrath.
Over on Twitter, Fellowship of the Fans (FOTF) has posted some new rumours about LOTR on Prime’s series that are sure to provoke head-scratching and even more rampant theorising about the composition of the initial two episodes.
Warning: these are, potentially, spoilers. If that’s important to you, what are you even doing here? Run away!
According to Fellowship of the Fans’ sources:
- Actor Robert Aramayo was on the production’s dwarven sets and filmed scenes with the dwarves.
- Actor Owain Arthur plays an important dwarven character in the same scenes.
- The dwarves wear “amazing dragon/dragon scale armour”.
- The dwarven king is said to look strikingly similar to Tormund from the HBO Game of Thrones telly series.
- Scenes in the first two episodes will show dwarves climbing a mountain, or ravine, and there is an “underground pub set piece”.
You can read the full run-down here.
However, dwarven sets? Is this cold water being tipped over the Year of the Trees brigade? Regardless, the Valinor image still exists and it seems beyond belief that the production would lead with an image like that purely as fan catnip.
Keep in mind, this is not confirmed, while the Valinor image is most certainly official.
But it may be that that segment is shorter than we want to believe. Maybe it’s a short PJ-style prologue per Fellowship of the Rings. Because dwarves do not belong in Aman (unless it’s in Aulë’s workshop, or your name is Gimli), and the most natural place for dwarves and elves to be seen together is Eregion and Khazad-dûm, during the Second Age.
If it is Second age, the dwarven king is likely to be Durin III. Owain Arthur might be Narvi. Narvi most famously had a close friendship with Celebrimbor, but I wonder whether Celeborn might fit in there somewhere too.
Food for thought.
Anyone who tells you that they expected the first promotional image for the LOTR on Prime series to reveal an iconic panorama of Valinor — the land of angelic beings of Middle-earth — is either a liar or is inside the production.
Because I’m certain that there was nothing in previously teased material and maps that even hints at Valinor.
What’s more, this single image is as much of a statement as a certain someone recently flying to the very edge of space.
At first, you think: “Well, it’s another Middle-earth city. But, hey, it’s pretty cool.” You’re expecting, perhaps, Armenelos or Rómenna on the island of Númenór. After all, we know the series is supposed to encompass the rise and fall of the island kingdom and there does seem to be a glittering body of water even if it’s a bit small to be a bay, much less the ocean.
Then your eye is drawn inexorably to the background glow and it dawns that what you thought was merely the sun nearly (and neatly) conceals a pair of colossal trees.
And in an instant your whole worldview of the series just … changes.
Because, you know — if you’ve tried your hand at reading The Silmarillion or have delved into the pre-history of The Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit — that these aren’t just any pair of trees.
It’s the Two Trees.
The tree of silver and the tree of gold that are the source of all light in Valinor. That provide the light for Fëanor’s Silmarils, and ultimately for the Phial of Galadriel. And whose destruction triggers a cascade of events that stretches all the way to the end of the Third Age.
If anything can be, this is the heart of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle-earth mythmaking.
LOTR on Prime has enormous ambitions and it’s not afraid to declare as much.
It’s declaring that it’s here to challenge the Peter Jackson movies as the definitive visual depiction of Tolkien’s Middle-earth.
It’s declaring that it has the talent, technology and resources, and access to the necessary source material.
I think, above all, LOTR on Prime is declaring to Tolkien fans that it doesn’t want to be underestimated.
It’s declaring that it’s not simply making a Game of Thrones clone for the mass market.
And it’s declaring that they’re going to take us, the readers of Tolkien’s work, to places that we never thought would be possible in a film or a TV series.
Sure, we already knew some of that — intellectually. We knew we were promised 50-odd hours of telly over five seasons. And, we knew that the rights and production investment runs into hundreds of millions of dollars. But you just can’t /feel/ a series of numbers.
This, on the other hand… this is real. Real, tangible proof that we’re on a journey to somewhere special.
Strap in, kids, we’re about to blast off into space.