The Fall of Numenor – A Review

“The Fall of Numenor” is a compilation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s writings about Numenor and the Second Age of Middle-earth. It is edited by Brian Sibley and is the most recent of a
number of compilations of Tolkien’s various writings centred around his created mythology. Examples of earlier works include “Beren and Luthien” and “The Fall of Gondolin” (to mention but two) which were edited and compiled by his son and literary executor, Christopher Tolkien.

The raw material, if I can call it that, of these compilations has seen print in various works edited by Christopher, in the form of “Unfinished Tales” and the multi-volume “History of Middle-earth”. Although these works organise Tolkien’s writings (which in the mind of the author were not for publication) chronologically and to a degree thematically, because of the way in which the source material was created – because Tolkien reworked or “retold” much of the material – it has been something of a challenge to get a consistent narrative of any of the stories. Thus the decision was made to re-organise the material into something resembling a narrative, recognising that total consistency of the storyline or the characterisation was not going to be achieved. In many respects the project has been successful, presenting readers with a compilation of otherwise scattered material and the ability to understand the creative process and at the same time enjoy the product of Tolkien’s creative effort.

The passing of Christopher Tolkien, whose last contribution was “The Fall of Gondolin” has not meant the end of the work. “The Nature of Middle-earth” was an edited compilation by Carl F. Hostetter and was published in 2021. Brian Sibley’s compilation of Tolkien’s writings on the Second Age -“The Fall of Numenor” is the latest offering.

The organisation of the material is based on Tolkien’s “Tale of the Years” which is a chronology of the events that preceded the narrative of “The Lord of the Rings” and the chronological entries are supplemented or expanded from Tolkien’s various sources. In addition to providing a history of Numenor the actions of the Dark Lord Sauron are woven into the story, as is the tale of the forging of the Rings of Power. Although the Rings do not feature with any prominence in the tale of the decline and fall of Numenor, Sauron’s part in the story is essential. Although the Dark Lord is more closely associated with the conflict with the Elves of Lindon led by Gil-Galad the involvement of the Numenoreans with the affairs of Middle-earth resulted in Sauron being taken to Numenor (or was his presence there part of his cunning master-plan). Once there he proceeded with the corruption of the Numenoreans which led to the attempt by Ar-Pharazon to travel to and reach the Undying Lands. This breach of the Ban of the Valar led to the destruction of Numenor. Sauron’s bodily form was destroyed but in spirit form he returned to Middle-earth and took up the One Ring.

The “faithful” Numenoreans, led by Elendil the Tall and his sons Isildur and Anorien sailed from the wreck of Nemenor and established the Realms in Exile in Middle-earth. The final conflict with Sauron which saw the end of the Second Age and the loss of the One Ring brings the narrative to an end.

The chronology set out by Tolkien covers thousands of years so necessarily the tale is somewhat episodic in form and where there are expansions – such as the tale of Aldarion and Erendis – the material is inserted at the appropriate chronological spot. Most of the material about Aldarion and Erendis comes from “Unfinished Tales”.

There is little need for editorial comment, which is kept to a minimum. What is helpful is that much of the narrative is fleshed out from other sources including “The Lord of the Rings” so that the reader has an editorially complete picture of the subject matter at hand.

Much of the style to tale telling is in Tolkien’s “grand manner” which characterises the narrative in “The Silmarillion”. Readers familiar with that work should have little difficulty with “The Fall of Numenor” but those looking for a narrative similar to “The Lord of the Rings” will be disappointed. Tolkien’s “grand manner” is characteristic of most of the writings about the First and Second Ages. Those seeking an expansion of “The Tale of the Years” chronology will be well rewarded. Bringing all the material into the compass of a single book and in such an organised form is extremely helpful. In addition, as I have suggested, the hand of the editor is very light. Sibley has organised the material with care and, as an editor should, has allowed Tolkien to speak for himself.

“The Fall of Numenor” is a welcome addition to the Tolkien library. I describe it as thus because for me the Tolkien Canon are those works published while Tolkien was alive or which was in preparation when he passed – thus “The Silmarillion” is included. However, the timing of publication is interesting if only for the fact that the very same story that is told in “The Fall of Numenor” is the subject of Amazon’s “The Lord of the Rings:The Rings of Power”.

The release of the book must be a huge source of frustration for the show runners of the Amazon project because what they can use (and for television only) is the material within the covers of “The Lord of the Rings”. None of the material dealing with the Second Age which has been published elsewhere – like “The Silmarillion” or “Unfinished Tales” for example – can be used. Thus, the details of the story line in “Rings of Power” must be derived from LOTR or from the imagination of the writers. I am sure that the writers must look greedily at “The Fall of Numenor” but with great frustration, knowing that, like the Undying Lands to the Numenoreans, the content is forbidden them.

Of course, the publishers will benefit. Interest in “The Rings of Power” will drive those who are keen to know the detail to consult – and hopefully buy – “The Fall of Numenor”. And that will spark debate as the inevitable comparisons between text and imagined adaptation are compared and contrasted.

I know there was a body of thought that rejected Peter Jackson’s adaptation of LOTR saying that it was not true to the text, or that pieces had been missed out. One immediate problem with “Rings of Power” is, as I have suggested elsewhere, the compressed time line. Readers of “The Fall” will find a more majestic development of Numenor with clear line towards decline and fall which is all going to occur rather too suddenly in “Rings of Power”. And that is just a beginning. The detail will provoke its own debates and discussions and I imagine that gatherings of Tolkien aficionados either in person or online will have fertile ground for lengthy debate.

But as I have said, the book is a useful addition to the library, presents the material in a coherent and logical form and is a most enjoyable read. It is recommended that readers set aside a few hours to really immerse themselves in the text. This is not a book for reading a paragraph at a time.

1 January 2023.


“The Lord of the Rings: Rings of Power” The First Season Review

I reviewed the first four episodes of “The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power” in September 2022.

The first series is completed and is available on Amazon Prime. In this review I shall make a number of observations about the series which could amount to “spoilers”. Readers are warned.

By the end of the first series we have seen the creation (or ruin) of Mordor by a bizarre combination of fire and water, the creation of the three Elven Rings (Vilya, Nenya and Narya) and the appearance of Sauron (who had been present for some time in the guise of a Deceiver). In addition the Stranger who fell from the sky, and who is possessed of enormous power, has decided to head east of the Greenwood in the company of Nori the proto-hobbit. The forces of Numenor lead by Tar-Miriel the Regent Queen and Elendil, prompted by Galadriel, have landed in Middle-earth, encountered and overcome the Southern band of Orcs and have installed Halbrand as the Returned King of the South. However, in the creation (or ruin) of Mordor Tar-Miriel has been blinded and the future of her rule is therefore in question.

I expressed some concern in my earlier review about the truncation of the time line. I was prepared to allow for narrative flow and the nature of adaptation in my earlier review, but the compression of events creates its peculiar difficulties with Tolkien’s chronology which demands a scope of centuries. What has happened is that everything seems to have tumbled in on top of one another without an opportunity for the  audience, or indeed the characters, to react to the impact of the various events.

Part of the problem lies in the fact that Tolkien aficionados will be aware of the content in “The Silmarillion” and “Unfinished Tales” along the “The Children of Huirin”, “Beren and Luthien” and “The Fall of Gondolin”.  Then there are the various retellings and narrative developments in the multi-volume “History of Middle-earth”(The “Fall of Numenor” which is directly relevant to the series and edited by Brian Sibley has only very recently been published).

Because of the arrangements that were made between Amazon and the Tolkien Estate only a very limited amount of material is available for use, and the show-runners have to fill in some rather large gaps – gaps for which information is available but because of licensing arrangements cannot be used.

Thus we get hints of a deeper time, a long past history, an enormous conflict between the Elves and the powers of Evil in the form of Morgoth, but as to the detail of Morgoth’s villainy, the making of the Silmarils (and what they were) by Feanor, their theft by Morgoth and the fearful acts of Feanor seeking the Silmarils driven by deep revenge there is but a hint. But these aspects are vital to an understanding of the events of the Second Age.

We receive hints of the Bliss of Valinor, a land without stain and a place of retreat for the Elves but we are not informed of the fact that while Elves have a duality of nature, the Race of Men have the Gift of Men – death – and cannot pass into Valinor – with one exception.

The glory of Valinor is hinted at when Celebrimbor is attempting to make the Three Elven Rings. He requires metal of a quality unknown in Middle-earth. Galadriel surrenders the knife given her by her brother Finrod (she did in fact have three other brothers and she was a niece of Feanor himself) which is melted down and provides the purity of material required.

At the beginning of the series Galadriel is on a quest for Sauron whom she believes survived the overthrow of Morgoth – but of that overthrow once again we get a hint. Importantly we are not told that in fact the land of Numenor was granted to the faithful Men as a reward for their part in the overthrow of Morgoth. Nor are we told of the prohibition on the Men of Numenor sailing westward to Valinor the peaks of which can be seen over the ocean.

In the First Age one man only set foot on Valinor – Earendil, bearing a Silmaril who sought the aid of the Valar in the war against Morgoth. That aid was forthcoming, but Earendil was not permitted to return to the land of the living and was places as a Star in the heavens by the Valar – The Flammifer of Westernesse.

Earendil is of critical importance in the “back story” to the Rings of Power yet because of the paucity of material in “The Lord of the Rings” that back story cannot be developed as it should be. Earendil was married to the elf-princess Elwing the White. They had two children – Elros and Elrond. After the defeat of Morgoth the children were given a choice of the race to which they wished to belong. Elros chose his “Race of Men” side and became first King of Numenor, taking the name Tar-Minyatur. Elrond chose his Elven side. Once again this is hinted at in comments by the way, but the familial connection between Elrond and the Royal House of Numenor has fallen by the wayside.

From time to time this deeper background is mentioned but only in passing. We are thrown into a sequence of events that obviously has a significant precursor, but the details of that precursor are unknown. Once again the problem lies in the fact that the show runners are limited in the material that they can use. It must be very difficult, I suppose, to have references to Earendil in LOTR and be limited to using those but knowing that there is a huge trove of information available in material elsewhere. But that material is unavailable because the rights have not been purchased.

This then demonstrates the first major difficulty that the first season and indeed the series faces – the material that they can use is very limited indeed. The hints that appear in LOTR and in the Appendices requires a large amount of imagination to fill in the gaps. I suppose a further difficulty lies in the fact that imagination cannot be let to run riot, especially when much of the material which could fill in the gaps is available elsewhere but unusable because of licensing arrangements.

One of the critical questions that the first season answered was “who was Sauron?” The show runners posed a number of tantalizing alternatives. Was he the Stranger, possessed of considerable power, who fell from the sky and was taken in by the proto-hobbits? Was he one of the curious  menacing three white witches? It turned out that in fact they were Seekers for Sauron who mistakenly identified the Stranger as Morgoth’s servant, and the Stranger eliminated them.

Was he, then, the master of the Southern Orcs – the fallen elf Adar. That was fairly easily dismissed. The final revelation that Halbrand was Sauron was a little hard to work out. Part of the problem was that Halbrand didn’t exactly have the charisma (or maybe a better term is menace) for the Dark Lord and Morgoth’s most faithful lieutenant.

But upon reflection finally identifying Halbrand as Sauron was in the nature of finally revealing a deception. That is consistent with the approach that Sauron adopted when he manifested himself as Annatar – the Bringer of Gifts. His entire approach was one of deception, even to the point of claiming to be the lost King of the Southern Lands (which later became Mordor). At one stage, while working as a smith in the forge of Celebrimbor, he makes reference to a gift – a subtle hint to his identity as Annatar.

It is a bit difficult to work out what Sauron is about. What are his objectives. That he was involved at least in the early stages of Celebrimbor’s quest to find a solution for the problems that beset the Elves in Middle-earth is a little concerning, yet he was not in any way involved in the creation of the Three Rings. And indeed the creation of the Three seems to be more a matter of accident than of part of a greater ring-making design.

Tolkien tells us that the Elves of Eregion made the Three in secret, but I always had the impression that this was contemporaneously with Sauron’s master-plan to create Rings for the peoples of Middle-earth that would be linked to the One that was forged in the fires of Mt Doom.

So far there is no sign of the Seven Rings for the Dwarves nor the Nine for Mortal Men. And indeed the last episode of the first season ends with Sauron entering the newly formed land of Mordor which was previously the South land of which he claimed to be King.

Clearly there is a lot more to come and I imagine that subsequent seasons will address the issues of the forging of the Seven, the Nine and the One. It must not be forgotten too that Sauron is humbled and taken to Numenor where he works his evil and his deception that brings about the downfall of the Land of Gift.

Clearly there is more scope for this in subsequent seasons, but one of the problems that the show runners are going to face is one of their making and that is the one to which I have made reference – that of time compression. How they will be able to fit all that is to come within their time scale and yet maintain the integrity of Tolkien’s vision will be a challenge.

The Dwarves and the proto-hobbits caused me some problems in the sense that the way that they were portrayed had elements of a caricature to them. Clearly the visual appearance of the Dwarves owed much to the way in which some of them were portrayed in Peter Jackson’s “The Hobbit” films, particularly to the large proboscis-like noses. I thought that this was a bit overdone.

The proto-hobbits too had elements of caricature to them. We know from the Prologue to “The Lord of the Rings” that the hobbits began as a migratory people who ended up in the Shire. We know that they were based on the archetypal English yeoman based in the country rather than in a larger town or village. But the prot-hobbits were not only bucolic but downright eccentric. They seemed to bumble about in a chaotic manner with very little structure in what they did. Their attitudes were those of extreme rustic primitivism to the extent of having foliage in their hair. This may have been designed to bring a light-hearted element to the show but there is humour on one hand and downright caricature on the other. If the proto-hobbits are going to play a role – and I suspect that they are – it might be better if they “wise-up” a bit and drop the bucolic caricature.

As things stand by the end of the first season the split between the main body of the proto-hobbits and the adventurous Nori has taken place as Nori accompanies the Stranger to the East. The Dwarves maintain their tenuous relationship with the Elves – especially the friendship between Elrond and Prince Durin and the discovery of mithril (and the existence of the Balrog in the dark depths of Khazad-dum) has become the central feature in that relationship.

I wonder if the mithril has been invested with a bit too much significance in “Rings of Power”. In “The Lord of the Rings” it was a thing of wonder, often hinted at when it was discovered that Frodo was wearing a suit of mithril mail.

However, the “Rings of Power” took the significance of mithril to an entirely different level and not one that I am sure is justified. There is a suggestion that somehow mithril has within it the light of a Silmaril or perhaps even of the Two Trees of Valinor.

It is dealt with in the following way:

Elrond recounts an apocryphal tale called The Song of the Roots of Hithaeglir. This song claims the origin of mithril to be when an Elf-warrior and a Balrog fought over a certain tree in the Misty Mountains that contained the light of the last Silmaril. It was then that lightning struck the tree, sending out tendrils of ore into the roots of the mountains beneath. Gil-galad and Celebrimbor believe this tale to be true, and furthermore that the remnants of the Silmaril’s light in mithril could save the Elven race from fading and being forced to return to Valinor.

This is an interesting concept but has no substance in the sources. There is no suggestion anywhere in Tolkien’s writings that there was a tree in the Misty Mountains that contained the light of a Silmaril – nor anywhere else for that matter. The light of the Trees of Valinor was captured by Feanor in the Silmarils and that is as far as it went.

The closest one could get to any suggestion of ethereal light is that the Elves of Eregion made an alloy from mithril called ithildin (“star moon”), used to decorate gateways, portals and pathways. It was visible only by starlight or moonlight. The West Gate of Moria bore inlaid ithildin designs and runes.

The Elven Ring Nenya (The Ring of Adamant) was described as being made of mithril and set with a “white stone”, presumably a diamond (this is never stated explicitly, although the usage of the word “adamant”, an old synonym, is strongly suggestive). The ring was wielded by Galadriel in Lothlórien, and possessed radiance that matches that of the stars. Frodo Baggins was able to see it by virtue of being a Ring-bearer.

So the first season ends with a number of pieces in play. The scene has been set for further developments in following seasons. It would be idle and unprofitable to speculate on what might happen although we do know that Pharazon the Numenorean Chancellor usurps the throne of Numenor, becomes Ar-Pharazon the Golden, humbles Sauron and brings him to Numenor. He falls under Sauron’s sway and leads an expedition to Valinor, the Undying Lands, whereupon his fleet is destroyed and the Valar call upon Iluvatar to destroy Numenor which sinks beneath the waves.

Sauron in spirit form returns to Mordor and resumes residence in the Dark Tower, Barad-Dur. Seven ships, bearing the Faithful, Elendil the Tall, his son Isildur and their followers, sail to Middle-earth to establish the Kingdoms in exile. The Seven Dwarven Rings and the Nine for  Mortal Men doomed to die are yet to be crafted, as is the One.

I have focused in this review upon certain aspects of the first season. As I suggested in my earlier review of the first  four episodes there are beautiful moments in the series that capture my imagining of Tolkien’s creation. This continues throughout the first season. The visual renderings are remarkable and the wreck that leads to the formation Mt Doom of Mordor is quite spectacular. As I observed in my earlier review, much is owed to Jackson’s earlier visualization.

The rendering of Numenor – a civilization of power and magnificence – is excellent and some of the scenes in Lindon capture the Elvish interrelationship with nature. The Dwarf realm of Khazad-dum is likewise magnificently rendered and the series succeeds visually if nothing else. As earlier observed there are some casting issues that I have which grate a little. I didn’t see Celebrimbor as a somewhat effete alchemist – rather a hands-on smith and inheritor of the craft skills of Feanor. Gil-Galad remains a disappointment.

The cast and crew went back to work in early October 2022 filming this time in the UK rather than in New Zealand. Although Covid interrupted the first season filming which took 18 months to film, there can be no doubt that many of the special effects and other production values would have taken time.

The head of Amazon Studios Jennifer Salke has said they are not willing to rush and she told Variety

“We want the shortest time possible between seasons, but we want to keep the bar just as high. So it’ll take what it takes but there’s been some urgency around moving quickly, which is why these guys have been writing all through their hiatus. We’re moving fast.”

Season 2 may be out in late 2023 (one wonders if like the release of the books Amazon holds to a September release date) but early 2024 would probably be more realistic. It will be interesting to see how Season 2 develops the story.

Concerning the Rings of Power and the Second Age

This is a first impression overview of the first four episodes of Amazon’s “The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power”.

The title of the production is interesting in itself. It incorporates the title of Tolkien’s best known work but in the second part defines the focus of the show that is intended to spread over a number of seasons.

The story-line covers the events of the Second Age of Middle-earth after the defeat of Morgoth. It deals with the relationship between the Elves, the Men of Numenor (the Edain) and the people of Middle-earth including the Harfoots who are a community of what could be described as proto-hobbits.

The material for the series is drawn from the Appendices to “The Lord of the Rings” and from hints and snippets that appear in the text of the book. The reason for this, and for the fact that no material is drawn from any other of Tolkien’s works (published posthumously) is because Amazon purchased the television rights only to “The Lord of the Rings” and “The Hobbit” and for these rights paid the Tolkien Estate the sum of about $250 million. This was quite a price to pay for the rights – for television only – to the material in the Appendices and the background material that may not have been used in Sir Peter Jackson’s movies of “The Lord of the Rings” and “The Hobbit”. The material “The Silmarillion”. “Unfinished Tales” and “The History of Middle-earth” was not included in the transaction.

The series, as the title suggests, focusses upon the rise of Sauron, the “Lord of the Rings” and of the making of the twenty Rings of Power. Although we are on episode four of eight of the first season, Sauron has not yet appeared in person but in the traditions of Tolkien’s story-telling is a dark rumour.

Galadriel, a Noldorin Elf of high lineage, is convinced that following the overthrow of Morgoth – the fallen Valar and Sauron’s overlord – that Sauron is still at large and ready to carry on the evil work of his master. The first episode opens as Galadriel, leader of the Elven armies of the North, seeks for Sauron in the frozen wastes of Forochel. There are hints of his presence – the occasional sign or icon associated with the evil one.

There can be no doubt that evil is a real presence in Middle-earth. To the South there are Men who sympathized with Evil and there are orcs who have embarked upon a building programme and who are also seeking a relic – a sword in fact –  which has been found by a young Southling named Theo.

What must be remembered is that this is an adaptation of hints of a story that appear in the Appendices and in the text of “The Lord of the Rings”. Liberties have been taken. Galadriel, who appeared in “The Lord of the Rings” as a powerful, wise but flawed Elven Queen, is in “Rings of Power” proud, haughty and impulsive but lacking in the hidden power possessed by the later Galadriel. Was this power conferred by the Elven Ring? I always was of the view that Galadriel’s power was natural.

The action takes place towards the end of the Second Age and one of the players who later falls under the thrall of Sauron and whose decisions led to the Fall of Numenor is already named – Pharazon, Chancellor to the Queen-Regent of Numenor, Miriel. At the end of the fourth episode the decision has been taken for the Edain, led by Galadriel and Elendil, to lead an expedition to Middle-earth.

The reality was that Numenor had involved itself in the doings of Middle-earth for some time, and Sauron’s rise and his physical manifestation preceded the events the subject of the series. In addition, by the time of Miriel and Pharazon, the Rings had been forged by Celebrimbor, Sauron had built Barad-Dur and had overrun and in turn been driven out of Eriador by a Numenorean expedition.

As I say, this is an adaptation and time-lines have been compressed. In the interests of telling the story and the constraints of the medium such liberties are understandable. Tolkien absolutists will be outraged. But then Jackson left out Tom Bombadil and the episode at Barrow Downs from the movie of “The Lord of the Rings”. Adaptation allows for many departures from the text – and admittedly, the text for the Second Age purchased by Amazon is limited indeed.

Perhaps what is more important is whether or not the series is true to Tolkien’s vision. Does it contain many of the underlying themes that are present in his other writing and especially “The Lord of the Rings”. In many respects the answer must be yes.

One of the characteristics of “The Lord of the Rings”, and indeed all of Tolkien’s writing, is its depth. The reader (or viewer in the case of the movies) quickly realizes that the action portrayed is a part of a longer and deeper story. This is consistent with Tolkien’s goal of developing a mythology for England and in line with his expressed theories about the creation of a Secondary World.

Even although we are in the thick of the action right from the start (although the first two episodes are rather pedestrian) we become aware that we are a part of a much deeper story. Hints of this depth come through from time to time. The title of the first episode “The Shadow of the Past” echoes the title of chapter 2 of Book 1 of “The Lord of the Rings – indeed to the very letter.

The Dwarves are suspicious of the Elves – there is a story there. Galadriel in Numenor recites her heritage and her origins which goes back thousands of years. She is one of the High Elves – one of the Great families.

Elrond explains his lineage to Prince Durin when he swears to keep the secret of mithril “I swear on the memory of my father, Earendil the Mariner” – He is the son of Earendil the Mariner who, wearing a Silmaril on his brow, crossed to Valinor and persuaded the Valar to contend against Morgoth. He could not return to Middle-earth but was set as a star by the Valar.

Later in episode four Elrond explains what it was that Earendil did.

“My father single-handedly sailed to Valinor and convinced the Valar to join the war and vanquish Morgoth. So great were his deeds that the Valar lifted him beyond the bounds of this world to forever carry the Evening Star across the sky.”

These hints appear in “The Lord of the Rings”. At the Council of Elrond, Elrond says

“Earendil was my sire, who was born in Gondolin before its fall; and my mother was Elwing, daughter of Dior, son of Luthien of Doriath”

and Frodo hears the poem of Earendil recited by Bilbo to the Elves in Rivendell. Earendil is described as

“for ever still a herald on

An errand that should never rest

To bear his shining lamp afar

The Flammifer of Westernesse”

This sense of depth is critical and is well-represented by Earendil for he is a link throughout the story. Not only was he responsible for the intervention of the Valar in the war of the Elves, Men and Morgoth but he is the father of two key characters.

The two sons of Earendil were given a choice. They could be mortal or accept the deathlessness that came with being an Elf. One of Earendil’s sons, Elros (later called Tar-Minyatur) elected to be mortal and was the founding King of Numenor. The other, Elrond, chose to be an Elf.

At the point in the story that Elrond reveals this to Prince Durin he connects with a distant and almost mythological past but also provides a link to the future that we read and see in the “Lord of the Rings”. Furthermore his daughter Arwen, who marries Aragorn in “The Return of the King” links back to the great intermarriages of Elves and Men – those of Beren and Luthien and Idril Celebrindal of Gondolin and Tuor.

I have focused upon Earendil for a reason. In my “The Song of Middle-earth” Chapter 8 is entitled “The Importance of Being Earendil”. He is a key figure – a link between the reality of life on earth – suffering, privation, hardship – and the Bliss of Valinor and the Undying Lands. He was born flesh and underwent apotheosis to virtual godhead and immortality. He is one of the living myths of Middle-earth and the star that shines upon his ship Vingilot (built of timber felled in Nimbrethil) as it sails the heaven is the wonderful and glorious light of a  Silmaril.

This link with a deep past and with a continuity for the future occurs from time to time within “The Rings of Power.” Another example can be found with the Tower of Watch in the Southlands that is abandoned by the Elves. (A northern equivalent may be found in Amon Sul or Weathertop in the Weather Hills in Eriador.) This is the tower where Arondir is based and where the people of the South village take refuge when the Orcs begin their rampage through the Southern Lands.

It seems that the Southern Lands are without a king who in fact is in exile in the form of Halbrand who rescues Galadriel after she casts herself into the Sundering Seas.

The king in exile is a familiar theme of myths and folk-tales. Indeed Aragorn in “The Lord of the Rings” provides an example. There are occasions when Halbrand (played by Charlie Vickers) displays similar behaviours to Aragorn (played by Viggo Mortenson in “The Lord of the Rings”) especially the way he give an upward and serious look. We know little of Halbrand but from snippets throughout the story the South Lands were protected by Elves (who are similar to Faramir’s Rangers) based in the Tower. What is effectively a demobilization takes place when the Tower is abandoned and many of the Elves depart for the Uttermost West. Yet there are still sympathizers with the Darkness dwelling in the South and the name of Sauron still conjures up terror.

I have already referred to Sauron as a rumour. This connects to the “Lord of the Rings” approach to Sauron who, along with the name of the Black Lands, Mordor, is even able to send shivers among the hobbits, safe in the Shire. In “The Lord of the Rings” a sense of evil is introduced not only by the tale that Gandalf tells Frodo in the chapter ‘The Shadow of the Past’ but by the visitations of the Black Riders (Nazgul) who introduce the reader to the real terror of Sauron’s evil.

By episode four of “Rings of Power” we have evidence of Sauron in the various icons that are present, from the map that Galadriel locates in the Western part of Numenor and from the hilt of the sword found by Theo and which becomes manifest when given blood. Interestingly the actor playing Sauron does not feature in any of the cast lists for “Rings of Power” which suggests that for this season at least he remains a rumour. It is doubtful that he can be named Annatar, the Lord of Gifts for he does not have that name in the material the rights of which were purchased by Amazon. That name for Sauron appears only in “The Silmarillion”.

The role of Adar (played by Joseph Mawle) has yet to become clear although he controls the Orcs of the Southlands and has Elvish ears. Whether he is a corrupted Elf or the Witch-King yet to be corrupted remains to be seen, although that said, the Witch-King was one of the Nine mortal men who fell under the sway of the Nine Rings. There is no doubt that Adar is at best a Sauron sympathizer and at worst one of the Dark Lord’s lieutenants.

The depth of the tale is also revealed when Galadriel introduces herself to the Regent Miriel and the Court of Numenor.

“Galadriel of the Northern Realm, daughter of the Golden House of Finarfin, Commander of the Northern Armies of the High King Gil-Galad’.

Prisoner though she might be there is no doubting that she is an elf of high lineage and power. She demonstrates this in episode four when she demands of Miriel to see the King Tar-Palantir.

“Then I have little choice but to ask for another, one of Numenor’s true ruler, your father the King”.

Once again Galadriel demonstrates a level of power and expectation and although she is confined in a cell, nevertheless she does get to see the King and also the Seeing Stone, the Palantir, which is in the King’s tower. This is one of the Seven Stones that accompanied Elendil and Isildur after the wreck of Numenor – “Seven Stars and Seven Stones and One White Tree”  – thus providing a link to the story line in “The Lord of the Rings”

The Harfoots – clearly proto-type hobbits, present an entirely different and interesting picture. The prologue to “The Lord of the Rings” gives us hint of their origins. They were wanderers dwelling between the eaves of Greenwood the Great and the Misty Mountains. Why they undertook the perilous crossing of the mountains into Eriador is not certain. Their own accounts (and they do have texts in “Rings of Power”) spoke of the multiplying of Men in the land and of a shadow that fell on the forest so that it weas darkened and its new name was Mirkwood.

Before the crossing of the Mountains the hobbits had divided into three different breeds. Harfoots, Stoors and Fallohides. The Harfoots were of browner skin, smaller and shorter, beardless and bootless. They preferred highlands and hillsides. The Stoors were broader, heavier in build and preferred flatlands and riversides. Fallohides were fairer of skin, taller and slimmer, loversd of trees and woodlands.

The Harfoots had much to do with the Dwarves and spent time dwelling in the foothills of the mountains. They moved west early and roamed over Eriador as far as Weathertop (Amon Sul) while others were still in the Wilderland. They were the most normal and representative variety of Hobbit and clearly are the focus for the development of the hobbits in “The Rings of Power.”

The realisation of the Harfoots is an interesting one – a semi-nomadic people with their own lore and practices, able to hide easily demonstrating a similar tendency displayed by hobbits of the Shire. Quite a bit of thought has gone into the portrayal of the Harfoots and their practices. I get the sense that somewhere in the story they will attempt the crossing of the Mountains and come to Eriador.

The discovery of the Stranger by Nori (properly named Elanor Kellamark Brandyfoot)  sets up more mystery. It is difficult to determine whether the Stranger is good or evil. The suggestion that he might be evil arises from Galadriel’s remark in the first episode in Sauron’s former fortress that Sauron’s aura of evil is so powerful that the flames from her soldiers’ torches can’t warm them. The fiery crash from the Stranger’s meteor is strangely cool, and it doesn’t burn Nori when she crawls into the wreckage.

I would like to think that the Stranger could be Gandalf or one of the Istari but I always imagined that the arrival of a Maia on Middle-earth would be surrounded with more majesty than a crashed meteor containing a being with communication difficulties.

Visually, “The Rings of Power” does not disappoint. Clearly the scenery and overall design owes much to Peter Jackson’s imagining, aided by well-known Tolkien artists Alan Lee and John Howe. Only John Howe was hired as a concept artist for “Rings of Power”.

That said, the themes of the Elven dwellings, the landscaping and lighting is particularly good. The scene when Finrod Felagund leaves his sister Galadriel and walks atop a hill to see a beautiful city with soaring towers  – possibly Gondolin although it may be the Tower of Tirion in Valinor – is our first view of the impressive architecture of the Elves. The light and airy style is carried through to the dwellings in Lindon, seat of the Elves in Middle-earth and home of Gil-Galad. There is a resemblance to Rivendell (Imladris) from Jackson’s imagining as the camera pans across the crags and valleys upon which Lindon is located.

The imagining of the Dwarf realm of Khazad-dum is impressive and soaring in its scope. It must be remembered that Moria (as it was called in “The Lord of the Rings”) had been lost notwithstanding the efforts of Balin son of Fundin to recapture the glories of the Dwarvish realm. But he awoke the Balrog and Moria was lost to evil and to orcs and trolls. In “Rings of Power” we get to see Khazad-dum in all is glory. The imagining is impressive.

As is the imagining of Numenor – quite a different realm from that of Lindon or Khazad-dum or the brutish dwellings of the Southlanders. Here we have a civilization at the height of its powers. Its ships dominate the seas with their unique wing-shaped sails. Its buildings rise from the bay with great statues that are reminiscent of the Argonath on the river Anduin through which the Fellowship pass in “The Lord of the Rings”. The royal palace echoes the design of Mins Tirith with a vast out-reaching prow over which flows a mighty waterfall.

The realisation of Numenor was more impressive than I could have thought. The city, however, must be Romenna. It cannot be Armenelos which was inland and the city depicted in “Rings of Power” has a harbour and is on the ocean. Missing from Numenor is the tower from which can be seen the Undying Lands – visible but forever out of reach because of the Ban of the Valar. Mortals could not come to the Undying Lands.

I thought that the show-runners took on a risky endeavour in the first episode in depicting the passage of the Elves to the Undying Lands. There is a hint of what this could be like in the final chapter of “The Lord of the Rings” when Frodo sailed from the Grey Havens

“And the ship went out onto the High Sea and passed into the West, until at last on a night of rain Frodo smelled a sweet fragrance on the air and heard the sound of singing that came over the water. And then it seemed to him that as in his dream in the house of Bombadil, the grey rain-curtain turned all to silver glass and was rolled back, and he beheld white shores and beyond them a far green country under a swift sunrise.”

In episode one Galadriel contemplates a painting of a ship sailing to Valinor and discusses it with Elrond.

Elrond: I hear it said that when you cross over you hear a song – one whose memory we all carry; and you are immersed in a light more intoxicating  than any sensation is all of Middle-earth

Because the days of war are over, according to Gil-Galad, the heroes, including Galadriel, would be escorted to the Grey Havens and be granted passage across the sea to dwell for all eternity in the Blessed Realm, the Far West, the Undying Lands of Valinor. At last they were going home.

This is not what Galadriel wants, fearing that the spirit of Sauron is still abroad and as the ship approaches the Undying Lands she jumps off into the sea from when she is rescued by chance and by Halbrand.

But it is the scene some 49 minutes into the first episode that depicts the passage of the Elves to Valinor that the creativity of the film makers exceeds all expectations. The ship is clearly an Elvish one with the prow of a swan, hearkening back to the swan ships of Alqualonde.  the design is similar to those seen in “The Lord of the Rings” thus owing a debt to Jackson’s vision.

The passage continues some 54 minutes in as the ship approaches the Undying Lands. The Elves divest themselves of their warlike trappings as the ship sails to the dazzling light that is Valinor. Delicate seabirds, known to the Elves, fly by and a song is heard as the birds lead the ship to the Undying Lands. The birds are remarkably similar to those depicted by Alan Lee in his painting of Alqualonde. The sky opens to a dazzling light and land can be faintly seen. A misty rain envelops the ship as one by one the Elves are absorbed by the light of the Bliss of Valinor.

In some respects this rendering of the passage to Valinor was the equivalent of what I thought was Jackson’s imagining of the arrival of the Rohirrim at Pelennor Fields and in my view the most outstanding scene of the whole “Lord of the Rings” movie trilogy. The amazing thing is that Jackson has Theoden do something that does not appear in the book but works perfectly. He rides down the line of the Rohirrim and touches the tips of their spears with his sword.

Then he uses Tolkien’s words which could not be bettered in any circumstances

Arise, arise, Riders of Theoden!

Fell deeds awake: fire and slaughter!

Spears shall be shaken, shields shall be splintered

A sword-day, a red day, ere the sun rises!

Ride now, ride now! Ride to Gondor!

 Jackson then puts the words of Eomer into Theoden’s mouth – words spoken after the fall of the King but in the context of what is happening they work perfectly

Death! Ride, ride to ruin and the world’s ending

There are so many possibilities in Tolkien’s writing for wonderful imaginings. The passage to Valinor and the Ride of the Rohirrim are two such.

Yet despite these wonderful imaginings there are a few disappointments. These are in the field of casting. Robert Aramayo makes it as Elrond and displays some of the power that Elves have when he hears – from a distance, a great distance – a conversation about the location of the vein of mithril. He has a certain airy quality to his portrayal of Elrond that works. And we must remember that he was one of the most powerful Elves in Middle-earth

“I was the herald of Gil-Galad and marched with his host. I was at the Battle of Dagorlad before the Black Gate of Mordor, where we had the mastery: for the spear of Gil-Galad and the Sword of Elendil, Aiglos and Nartsil, none could withstand. I beheld the last combat on the slopes of Orodruin, where Gil-Galad died, and Elendil fell, and Narsil broke beneath him,: but Sauron was overthrown, and Isildur cut the ring from his hand with the hilt-shard of his father’s sword and took it for his own.”

Sadly, however, Gil-galad played by Benjamin Walker doesn’t make it. I don’t know whether it is the golden wreath that he wears but the majesty of a High Elf is simply lacking. In “The Lord of the Rings” we first hear of Gil-Galad when Sam recites part of the Fall of Gil-Galad on the path to Amon Sul.

Gil-galad was an Elven-king

Of him the harpers sadly sing

The last whose realm was fair and free

Between the Mountains and the Sea

His sword was long, his lance was keen,

His shining helm afar was seen;

The countless stars of heaven’s field

Were mirrored in his silver shield

But long ago he rode away

And where he dwelleth none can say;

For into darkness fell his star

In Mordor where the shadows are.

Sadly the portrayal of Gil-Galad doesn’t measure up. It may be that there will be improvements as the show progresses and develops. But similarly Celebrimbor, played by Charles Edwards, doesn’t make it for me. Edwards looks like a scribe or a bureaucrat rather than an Elven smith, creator of the Rings, he who wrote the signs on the Door of Durin that led to Khazad-dum. Celebrimbor was the son of Feanor’s brother Curufin. It was Feanor who crafted the Silmarils. Celebrimbor’s lineage as a master craftsman is great. The Edwards portrayal reminds me of a Machiavellian elf who wouldn’t dirty his hands at a forge.

Isildur played by Maxim Baldry is impetuous and undisciplined. I hope that he develops into the tall, proud Numenorean and elf-friend but in these early episodes he has a distance to go before he is the Isildur who took the Ring from Sauron.

Elendil, (Lloyd Owen) on the other hand is as I imagined. He has a majesty and mana that shines through and is not afraid to acknowledge to a Numenorean ruler that his name means elf-friend at a time when elves were not seen as friends of Numenor, although they once were.

My tentative conclusions so far – apart from the casting misgivings and the compression of the timeline – are that the show is worth watching and is a good rendering of Tolkien’s creation. It does not have the doom laden sense that accompanied “Game of Thrones” or “House of the Dragon”. Martin’s world is a brutal one and Tolkien’s can be as well although there is always room for redemption.

I shall continue with Season One for I am interested in the way in which Tolkien’s Secondary World is realized. Jackson did an excellent job. So far, from a visual perspective at least, this isn’t too bad.

It is what it Is – The Science of Middle-earth

Much of the writing about Tolkien and his works focusses upon the literary aspects of his Middle-earth works. Therefore it is rather unusual to come across a book that describes itself as a new understanding of Tolkien and his world using scientific disciplines to examine Middle-earth.

The Science of Middle-earth (Roland LeHouq, Loic Mangin and Jean-Sebastien Steyer (eds) Pegasus Books 2021) provides an interesting, at times provocative and at times amusing look at Tolkien’s Middle-earth world. It is a compilation of essays that consider that scientific foundations of Middle-earth and its denizens. The book claims that Tolkien had an interest in aspects of science – cosmology, geography, metallurgy, botany and geology and without this knowledge he would have been unable to create the Middle-earth of the depth and breadth that he did. It is claimed, too, that Tolkien was aware of the way in which science could align itself with power, imposing its values in an imperialist manner.

Feanor in The Silmarillion, Celebrimbor of Eregion and the thinkers of Lorien combined a quest for knowledge with artistic creation. Tolkien said that

“the Elves represent the artistic, aesthetic and purely scientific aspects of the Humane nature raised to a higher level than is actually seen in Men..they have a devoted love of the physical world, and a desire to observe and understand it for its own sake.” (Tolkien to Michael Straits 1956).

The book is divided into thematic sections – each section gathering together a number of scientific studies and disciplines to demonstrate how these are deployed in Middle-earth. The sections are as follows:

World-building – addressing matters such as the sociology of Middle-earth, economics, families, power and politics, language, evolution and communication in Middle-earth and closes with philosophy in Middle-earth.

Anchoring in Space and Time, in which there are essays on archaeology, history and historiography in Middle-earth, a consideration of linguistics and a study of the mythology of corruption and dependence.

The section on “Spectacular Settings” includes studies of the plants, landscape and geography of Middle-earth including a consideration of the tectonic makeup of Arda, the subterranean worlds and the gemology of Middle-earth along with a consideration of Medieval-Fantastical metallurgy. The One Ring comes in for a careful examination in a consideration of the quality of invisibility it confers along with its complex chemical history and what would be required to make such a potent object.

The people of Middle-earth are considered in the section entitled “Remarkable Characters”. Here are examined the hobbits from a physical point of view including a study and how the rather larger feet of hobbits gives them certain characteristics, the recent discovery of a human ancestor in Indonesia who was nicknamed “hobbit” and how this impacted upon paleoanthropology, the physical decline and metamorphosis of Gollum, the eyesight and optical characteristics of the Elves, the relationship of Dwarves to hyenas and a consideration of whether an Ent is a plant or an animal and some of the “real-world” similarities that exist. Saruman’s Uruks are discussed in a context of genetic modification and the section closes with a phylogenetic approach to humanoids In Middle-earth (aided by some helpful diagrams).

The final section is entitled a Fantastical Bestiary and looks at what re referred to as mythotypes within the realm of beasts and then a consideration of ornithology and the way Tolkien treats birds – and especially the Great Eagles like Thorondor – the fantastical oliphaunts and their relationship to elephants, the nature of Wargs and their parallels in Scandinavian folklore, a careful study of Beorn and whether he was a Man-bear or a Bear-man (there is a difference) – spiders in Middle-earth referred to as arthropods, as well as the different types of dragon that make appearances in the Tolkien canon – it should be recalled that Glaurung could not fly whereas Smaug and Ancalagon the Black could and these evolutionary differences are considered. The horrible Monster in the Water outside the Mithril Gate of Moria is considered and the section closes with a discussion of Tolkien’s cryptozoological bestiary.

All of this provides for vert entertaining reading along with some thought-provoking observations. I do, however, have two problems with the approach adopted.

The first relates to reliance by many of the writers upon Peter Jackson’s movie adaptation of the Lord of the Rings. It must be remembered that these movies were Jackson’s imagining of Tolkien’s imagining and although in many case Jackson got it right, my own view is that if a writer is looking at Tolkien’s Middle-earth it must be based upon the materials that Tolkien created. Luckily we have a very large depth of material contained in the published Canon (The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings and The Silmarillion) and the background materials and information provided in Unfinished Tales and in the multi-volume History of Middle-earth. There is more than enough material available from Tolkien’s pen that would not require resort to Jackson’s movies.

The second is the importation of certain physical and scientific realities into the analysis. For example the sections on the Ring focus upon the physical attributes of the Ring and overlook the high level of craftsmanship of Elves like Feanor and Celebrimbor and the fact that Sauron had demi-godlike qualities (he was a Maia) that allowed him to channel his power into an object in a way that is not possible given our current scientific knowledge.

I have always viewed Middle-earth as similar but not identical to our own – not perhaps an alternate reality but a parallel universe. In this respect my own view is that the scientific constraints imposed upon our physical existence need not necessarily apply to Middle-earth. There are similarities in that there are creation myths, the concept of the Fallen Angel and certain supernatural or metaphysical elements in both universes, but that the rules in Middle-earth differ from ours. I do not need a scientific rationale for the long-sightedness of the Elves other than that it is a reality in Middle-earth. Nor do I need an explanation of the One Ring based on the state of OUR knowledge rather than the realities of object creation within a Middle-earth universe.

So from time to time I felt dragged back into the reality of my universe and away from the Secondary World created by Tolkien. I must admit that some of the explanations and theories are quite amusing and for the Tolkien aficionado it may provide some hours of amusement.  But my own view is that as far as Middle-earth and its workings are concerned  – as is so often said these days – it is what it is.

Getting the Right Quotation

It is a matter of concern when the editor of New Zealand largest circulating newspaper makes an assertion about the source of a quote, and gets it wrong. In saying that I am not suggesting that there are similar shortcomings in other stories or articles, but I am sure that we are all familiar with comments that have been taken out of context or that are good for a soundbyte.

So what has prompted my ire on this subject. The Herald editorial for 21 August 2021 entitled “Lord, what a wonderful quest” opens with the following words

“With due acknowledgement to JRR Tolkien: “Deep in the land of Mordor, in the Fires of Mount Doom, the Dark Lord Sauron forged a master ring, and into this ring he poured his cruelty, his malice and his will to dominate all life.”

Since picking up on these opening words of the epic trilogy 20 years ago, New Zealand has been on a wondrous journey.”


This assertion is patently incorrect. The first volume of “The Lord of the Rings” which is “The Fellowship of the Ring” opens with a foreword from Tolkien himself, followed by a prologue divided into 4 parts –  “Concerning Hobbits”, “Concerning Pipeweed”, “Of the Ordering of the Shire” and “Of the Finding of the Ring” together with a Note of Shire Records. The first chapter, proper, is entitled “A long-expected party” and commences with the words

“When Mr. Bilbo Baggins announced that he would shortly be celebrating his eleventy-first birthday with a party of special magnificence, there was much talk and excitement in Hobbiton”. No mention of the origins of the One Ring.

Indeed the origins of the Ring and its history begin to develop throughout the story. The genesis of the One Ring develops in “The Fellowship” – Chapter 2 – “The Shadow of the Past” as Gandalf tells Frodo

“In Eregion long ago many Elven-rings were made, magic rings as you call them, and they were, of course, of various kinds: some more potent and some less. The lesser rings were onl;y essays in the craft before it was full-grown, and to the Elven-smiths they were but trifles – yet still to my mind dangerous for mortals. But the Great Rings, the Rings of Power, they were perilous”

The making of the One Ring is not referred to at this stage in the story but the link with the Dark Lord Sauron is mentioned after Gandalf confirms that Frodo’s ring is indeed the One.

“The Enemy still lacks one thing to give him strength and knowledge to beat down all resistance, break the last defences, and cover all the lands in a second darkness. He lacks the One Ring.

The Three, fairest of all, the Elf-lords hid from him, and his hand never touched them or sullied them. Seven the Dwarf-kings possessed but three he has recovered, and the others the dragons have consumed. Nine he gave to Mortal Men, proud and great, and so ensnared them. Long ago they fell under the dominion of the One, and they became Ringwraiths, shadows under his great Shadow, his most terrible servants. Long ago. It is many a year since the Nine walked abroad”

The aspects of the One Ring and some of its qualities are revealed as the story progresses but it is not until “The Council of Elrond” (Book II, Chapter 2 of “The Fellowship of the Ring”) that we are told of the history of the Ring.

“Then all listened while Elrond in his clear voice spoke of Sauron and the Rings of Power, and their forging in the Second Age of the world long ago. A part of his tale was known to some there, but the full tale to none, and many eyes turned to Elrond in fear and wonder as he told of the Elven-smiths of Eregion and their friendship with Moria, and their eagerness for knowledge, by which Sauron ensnared them. For in that time he was not yet evil to behold, and they received his aid and grew mighty in craft, whereas he learned all their secrets, and betrayed them, and forged secretly in the Mountain of Fire the One Ring to be their master. But Celebrimbor was aware of him, and hid the Three which he had made, and there was war, and the land was laid waste, and the gate of Moria was shut”

So it is clear that “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy does not start with the words quoted as suggested in the editorial. Indeed the true origins of the Ring slowly develop until the revelations at the Council of Elrond – a significant and important chapter, for it is here that Tolkien’s new “hobbit story” transforms into an heroic epic.

There are other references to the origins of the Ring in “The Silmarillion” in the section entitled “Of the Rings of Power and the Third Age” and in “Unfinished Tales” in Part III,  Chapter 4 entitled “The Hunt for the Ring”. Tolkien tells of the making of the Ring in a letter to Milton Waldman (“The Letters of J R R Tolkien” Humphrey Carpenter (ed) at p. 152 – 153)

“The Elves of Eregion made Three supremely beautiful and powerful rings, almost solely of their own imagination , and directed to the preservation of beauty: they did not confer invisibility. But secretly in the subterranean Fire, in his own Black Land, Sauron made One Ring, the Ruling Ring that contained the powers of all the others, and controlled them, so that its wearer could see the thoughts of all those that used the lesser rings, could govern all that they did, and in the end could utterly enslave them…….

[Sauron] rules a growing empire from the great dark tower of Barad-Dur in Mordor, near to the Mountain of Fire, wielding the One Ring.

But to achieve this he had been obliged to let a great part of his own inherent power (a frequent and very significant motive in myth and fairy-story) pass into the One Ring”

But what is the source for the quotation attributed to Tolkien in the Herald editorial. It certainly has Tolkien’s “voice” and the facts contained in it accord with the information in “The Lord of the Rings”.

The quotation comes from the prologue to the Peter Jackson adaptation of “The Lord of the Rings” – “The Fellowship of the Ring”. The words are spoken by Galadriel – the words in brackets are in Elvish:

“(I amar prestar aen.)

The world is changed.

(Han matho ne nen.)

I feel it in the water.

(Han mathon ned cae.)

I feel it in the earth.

(A han noston ned gwilith.)

I smell it in the air.

Much that once was is lost, for none now live who remember it.

It began with the forging of the Great Rings. Three were given to the Elves, immortal, wisest and fairest of all beings. Seven to the Dwarf-Lords, great miners and craftsmen of the mountain halls. And nine, nine rings were gifted to the race of Men, who above all else desire power. For within these rings was bound the strength and the will to govern each race.

But they were all of them deceived, for another ring was made. In the land of Mordor, in the Fires of Mount Doom, the Dark Lord Sauron forged a master ring, and into this ring he poured his cruelty, his malice and his will to dominate all life.”

The sentence “In the land of Mordor” is as stated in the movie sound-track. The use of the word “Deep” does not appear in that source. An internet search on the phrase reveals a number of sources all of which repeat the same error.

All that to one side, the words quoted by the Herald editor are from the movie and certainly do not open Tolkien’s trilogy as it appears in print.

This may be seen to be an exercise in pedantry, and perhaps it is. Tolkien scholars (and I rank myself among them) are rather particular about their field of study and the attribution of sources, as is the case in any field of academic study, is important. I have not provided page numbers for the quotes in this piece if only because the number of printings of “The Lord of the Rings” means that pagination varies. I have adopted the system I used in my “The Song of Middle-earth – JRR Tolkien’s Themes Symbols and Myths” citing source and chapter number.

I do not expect a Herald editorial to provide footnotes. But is an accurate quotation and attribution too much to ask?

(Sources consulted in writing this post are J.R.R Tolkien “The Lord of the Rings”; J.R.R. Tolkien “The Silmarillion”; “The Letters of J R R Tolkien” Humphrey Carpenter (ed);J.R.R. Tolkien “Unfinished Tales” (Christopher Tolkien (ed)); Wayne G Hammond and Christina Scull “The Lord of the Rings – A Reader’s Companion”; David Harvey “The Song of Middle-earth: J.R.R. Tolkien’s Themes Symbols and Myths” “The Fellowship of the Ring” Extended DVD Edition – Peter Jackson Director.)

RIP Christopher Tolkien

Christopher Tolkien has died at the age of 95. This is sad news but not entirely unexpected. He himself in the preface to “Beren and Luthien” questioned at the age of 93 whether it would be the last volume of his father’s works that he edited, and he certainly drew the line in the preface to “The Fall of Gondolin”. It was fitting in a way that the last work that he edited was his father’s first tale of his mythology, written whilst he was invalided out of the trenches in World War One.

Christopher John Reuel Tolkien was the third son of the author J. R. R. Tolkien and was born in Leeds on 21 November 1924. Christopher had long been part of the critical audience for his father’s fiction, first as a child listening to tales of Bilbo Baggins(later published as “The Hobbit”), and then as a teenager and young adult offering much feedback on The Lord of the Rings during its 15-year gestation.

He had the task of interpreting his father’s sometimes self-contradictory maps of Middle-earth in order to produce the versions used in the books, and he re-drew the main map in the late 1970s to clarify the lettering and correct some errors and omissions. J. R. R. Tolkien invited Christopher to join the Inklings when he was twenty-one years old, making him the youngest member of the informal literary discussion society .

Following the death of J.R.R Tolkien in 1973, Christopher became his literary executor and was responsible for editing and seeing to publication “The Silmarillion”. This was followed by “Unfinished Tales” and the massive 12 volume collection of his father’s Middle-earth writings entitled “The History of Middle-earth.” In addition he edited as collections tales under the title “The Children of Hurin”, “Beren and Luthien” and in 2018 “The Fall of Gondolin”

In addition Christopher edited and saw to publication many of his father’s more academically inclined works such as “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Pearl and Sir Orfeo”, “The Monsters and the Critics and othe essays”, “The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrun”, “The Fall of Arthur” and “Beowulf: A Translation and Commentary”.

Christopher’s son Simon described the enormity of the task after his grandfather died with so much material still unpublished.

Simon said: “He had produced this huge output that covered everything from the history of the gods to the history of the people he called the Silmarils – that was his great work but it had never seen the light of day despite his best efforts to get it published.”

Christopher was critical of the comercialisation of his father’s work and was critical of Peter Jackson’s Oscar-winning film adaptation of The Lord Of The Rings.

In a 2012 interview with the French newspaper Le Monde, he criticised the adaptations, saying: “They gutted the book, making an action film for 15 to 25-year-olds.”

He also said: “Tolkien has become a monster, devoured by his own popularity and absorbed by the absurdity of our time,” and that “the commercialisation has reduced the aesthetic and philosophical impact of the creation to nothing”.

Tolkien served as the director of the Tolkien Estate until 2017, when it was believed he stepped down due to Amazon Studios acquiring the Lord of the Rings TV rights.

His opposition to the movie adaptations is understandable, given that he wished to protect the integrity of the original creation. But in many respects, J R R Tolkien and latterly Christopher themselves were involved in an adaptative process. Given that Tolkien wanted to create a mythology for England it is in the nature of myth that the tales are told and retold, varied, edited, truncated and adapted. This is the nature of story-telling. It is doubtful that the Greek versions of “The Iliad” and “The Odyssey” are as they were originally narrated by the poet or poets we name as Homer, and one has only to look at the various translations that are available to understand the differences that can occur in telling the same story.

Furthermore it must be remembered that the movie version of “The Lord of the Rings” was an adaptation in a different medium from a book in the same way that the BBC radio adaptation by Brian Sibley starring Michael Hordern as Gandalf and Ian Holm as Frodo is just that. Some material was left out. Like the movie, for example, there was no Tom Bombadil nor Fog on Barrowdowns. I must say that I thought a liberty was taken substituting Arwen for Glorfindel on the Flight to the Ford in the movie. But the essential elements of the story, the basic themes remained the same. There are moments in Jackson’s adaptation of the Lord of the Rings where he gets it just right. The passing of the Elves to the West, Rivendell and the Bridge at Khazad Dum are well done.

It is to be hoped that the Amazon adaptations will maintain the integrity of the parent work and as I have suggested elsewhere, hopefully we will see some of the tales of the First and Second Ages. Beren and Luthien and The Fall of Gondolin would make for amazing viewing. Move over Game of Thrones.

Tolkien scholar Dr Dimitra Fimi reflected on Christopher’s academic contribution:

Tolkien studies would never be what it is today without Christopher Tolkien’s contribution. From editing The Silmarillion to the mammoth task of giving us the History of Middle-earth series, he revealed his father’s grand vision of a rich and complex mythology. He gave us a window into Tolkien’s creative process, and he provided scholarly commentary that enriched our understanding of Middle-earth. He was Middle-earth’s cartographer and first scholar.

Christopher Tolkien passed to the West on 16 January 2020.

What’s In a Name – A Ring by Any Other

Is it correct that Amazon’s series on Tolkien’s works should be entitled “The Lord of the Rings”.  A recent article in the Herald with an accompanying video perpetuates what I consider to be a misnomer. True, the video does include the title page from The Lord of the Rings but there are other snippets of information that would suggest that the material for the Amazon production will not focus on the tale of the destruction of the One Ring. That ship has already sailed, courtesy of Peter Jackson. I also imagine that there would be significant intellectual property issues is redoing The Lord of the Rings for television. As it is, Amazon paid close to $250 million to acquire the global TV rights – but to what. “The Lord of the Rings”? Or to all of Tolkien’s canon including “The Silmarillion”, “Unfinished Tales” and the various story lines appearing in Christopher Tolkien’s monumental “History of Middle-earth” and the publication of the storylines behind “The Children of Hurin”, “The Tale of Beren and Luthien” and the most recent “The Fall of Gondolin.” I would hope that the Amazon production will delve into some of those storylines.

Those in charge of publicity seem to have overlooked the fact that the new series is set in Middle-earth and will explore new storylines preceding “The Fellowship of the Ring” – the first book in Tolkien trilogy. Does that mean that the series will explore the story behind the making of the Rings of Power, the Last Alliance between Elves and Men and the fall of Isildur?

Necessarily, in my view, preceding that must be told the tale of Numenor and Sauron’s corruption of Ar-Pharazon which led to the drowning of Numenor and the removal of the Seven Stars and Seven Stones and One White Tree to Gondor. I should note that Numenor appears in some of the maps published by Amazon although it did not appear as such in any of the Tolkien maps. Yet one cannot tell the tale of Numenor in isolation, for Numenor was a form of reward for Men. And that reward requires a retelling of the struggle against Morgoth which is inextricably intertwined with the making of the Silmarils by Feanor and his subsequent downfall.

I suppose it all boils down top what is in a name. “Lord of the Rings” is a popular, populist and collective identifier for Tolkien’s work and I can understand why the publicists have chosen to use it. But unless they are going to retell, in more detail, the tale that has been told by Jackson, the use of the title is a misnomer and is misleading. Rather, I would prefer to see the series described, for the moment at least and until the story lines are clearly developed, as Tolkien’s Middle-earth.

Thinking About Mastermind

About thirty-five years ago I had a bit of success in the TV quiz show Mastermind. It was an interesting journey.

The show continued here in New Zealand and then went off the screen towards the end of the 1980’s or early 1990’s. It has now been revived. And it is different, as one would imagine it would be. Times change and so do entertainment styles. And some things remain the same.

When I did Mastermind the format was two minutes on a specialist subject of one’s choice followed by two minutes of general knowledge questions. The winners of the eight preliminary rounds went to the semi-final. We were required to change specialist subject. Otherwise the format remained the same. The winner and runner-up made it through to the final. The current format reverses that process. The winners and eight other top scorers go through to the four semi-final rounds. Only the winners of the semi-final rounds make it to the final. And for the semi-final the specialist subject must change.

The trick with Mastermind was to answer as many questions correctly as possible within the two minutes. This meant maximising the number of questions asked. There were ways to do this. The first involved knowing what you don’t know and passing as quickly as possible – even if it mean interrupting the question. The other way was to get the answer out as quickly as possible if you did know it – and if you could get the correct answer out before the question finished so much the better – even if it is a bit rude to interrupt.

The current series of Mastermind screening on TV1 is far more polite. Contestants have to wait until the questioner has finished. Some of them have interrupted, but the questioner proceeds to finish the question. A bit strange and pedestrian in my opinion and certainly inhibits a fast paced round. And definitely inhibits building up a decent score.

On the subject of questions and pace I must say that the questions seem to be incredibly long and contain too much information. Surely it is better to ask for a simple fact than to preface the question with information that is not directly relevant to the answer. An example (and I have concocted this) would be “What were Gandalf’s last words to the Fellowship on the Bridge at Khazad-Dum” Brief, punchy and to the point. And there is only one answer. But question construction in the TV1 series means that the question would probably be phrased in this way, “As the Fellowship were fleeing from the Balrog in the Mines of Moria on their way to Lothlorien, what were Gandalf’s last words on the Bridge at Khazad-Dum” And the answer is the same. “Fly you fools!” But that answer doesn’t need all the prefatory stuff. And the problem is that this slows down the pace, prevents the accumulation of points and means more time is spent asking individual questions than really testing the contestant’s knowledge.

The format of the current show allows 90 seconds on the specialist subject, 90 seconds on general knowledge and 90 seconds on a New Zealand general knowledge topic. I don’t understand the addition of the New Zealand section unless it is to make the show “relevant” but general knowledge is general knowledge irrespective of location and when I did the show there were New Zealand general knowledge questions included – no need for a special round. Once again, 90 seconds is not really long enough to build up a decent score. If anyone has watched other quiz shows, especially The Chase, it will be obvious that once a contestant gets into rhythm of answering, more questions get answered and the tension – and the points – build up. An extra 30 seconds makes all the difference.

I understand that “commercial necessity” means that there have to be advertisements but I can’t understand why the placement of those announcements must be in the middle of each round. Murder on the contestants and once again slows down the pace of the show.

But it is still a great format. The filming location under the clock tower at Auckland University is different and appropriate. The show is entertaining and good on the contestants for giving it a shot – sitting in an exposed position under a bright light and having questions come out of the dark is quite tense. The show was inspired by the experiences of the originator being interrogated by the Gestapo in World War II. Whilst the tension is, shall we say, different, it is still there. Maybe a return to the original formula might increase the drama and the thrill and the tension, at least for the audience. And good luck to all concerned.

The Hobbit – Thorin’s Tragedy

The long awaited final instalment of “The Hobbit” trilogy has hit the screens along with the expected fanfare, marketing tie-ins and the like. So what is the movie like. In two words, very good. But in fact there are realms that are explored in the movie that, although alluded to in the book, are further developed by Jackson and his creative team.

The first point that should be made is that the hobbit of the title – Bilbo Baggins – is something of a bit player on a much wider and more dramatic canvas. In fact if we were to look at the main story line it is about the tragedy of Thorin Oakenshield and tragedy it is – of almost Euripidean proportions.

Tragedy is an examination of the doom of man and his shortcomings. The form was first developed by the Greeks and even today, from a distance of two and a half thousand years, the Greek realisation of the formula is still seen as the epitome of tragedy, a formula from which there has been little departure over the ages. But the tragic-form has not been the exclusive property of the ancient Greeks. The tragic awareness occurs in the literature of many peoples and is demonstrated in many of the heroic sagas, such as the Edda, the Icelandic sagas, the Kalevala, even to the soul-searching tragic realisation of Sir Gawain in his second encounter with the Green Knight. The tragic awareness in the heroic sagas is demonstrated by a conquering glorious hero, possessed of skill in
arms and special weaponry, engaging in great and important acts. Yet “he appears against the sombre background of inevitable death, a death which will tear him away from his joys and plunge him into nothingness; or, a fate no better, into a mouldering world of shadows”. (Albin Lesky, Greek Tragedy 1978) The tragic man (or tragic hero) carries within himself the seeds of his own downfall.
His humanity, at times a blessing and a virtue, can be a curse. His good acts are magnified, demonstrating him as the epitome of the potential goodness in man. His failings are enlarged, heightening the contrast and making his fall that much more poignant. And fall he must, for fall is the essence of tragedy. And the tragedy is that one so demonstrably noble and so potentially great must fall, not as a result of external influences, but as a result of the failings or shortcomings of the man within. It is, however, impossible to devise a short formula or definition for tragedy. This has been recognised by all who attempt so formidable a task. The best that one can do is point out the essential ingredients of tragedy.

As a result of certain actions by one of the protagonists of the tragedy, who may even be the tragic hero, the balance of the various conflicting forces of nature has been upset. The forces of nature represent order and harmony. The upsetting of the natural order results in chaos. The resolution of the conflict must be the restoration of order. Consequently in tragic drama, the murder of a King, or an incestuous relationship, or usurpation, or an abandonment of filial duty are all seen as actions contrary to an established order of things. The tragic hero may be responsible for upsetting the order or he may be the character through whom order must be re-established, but who, at the same time, may have to be sacrificed that the balance may be restored.

Tragedy is often presented to us in the tales of the heroes. The protagonists are frequently kings, statesmen, princes or warriors of great renown which makes more poignant the depth of their fall. Macbeth, formerly a doughty warrior and faithful subject, recognises the depth of his own fall with the words:

I am in blood
Stepped in so far, that should I wade no more,
Returning were as tedious as go o’er

But the tragedy must mean something to us, the audience or readers. The fall of the tragic hero must affect us, come close to us, have meaning for us, become something that we recognise and which must have relevance. The tragedy must be something to which we can react and which affects us emotionally. This is what is known as catharsis. To make the tragedy even more meaningful, the tragic hero must be fully aware of his situation. He must suffer, know that he is suffering and know why he is suffering. He cannot complain by asking, ‘Why must all these things happen to me?’ He is master of himself and of his fortunes and misfortunes. He may berate himself for committing a certain act which led to a certain consequence, but he cannot question why the consequence has befallen him. Of course, in tragedy there can be only one end for the character who has captured our imagination by his nobility and has heightened our dismay by his fall, and that is death. By his death, the tragic hero returns the balance to nature, whether he was responsible for the upset or not. His death is the final action in a number of actions that he must undertake to dispel disorder.

A further element of tragedy is that it deals with an essential ingredient of the human condition in that it inevitably raises questions of a moral nature. It need not be a purely moral failure which causes the tragic fall. The tragic hero must fall into moral error which contributes to his fall. As a consequence of this the tragic hero, like Oedipus, must carry with him a moral guilt. The tragic hero suffers both the external consequences of his fall and an awareness of his downfall and of the events which led to it.

Thorin’s objective is to restore the balance that was upset when his grandfather Thror fell under the spell of the Arkenstone and when Smaug expelled the Dwarves from the Lonely Mountain. As is the case in so many “hero quests” Thorin undergoes a period of wandering until the “chance meeting” (see “Unfinished Tales”) sets him on the Quest of Erebor. “Unfinished Tales” informs us of Gandalf’s hidden agenda – eliminate the dragon as a potential ally of the Evil One – but Thorin takes the opportunity to re-establish the Dwarvish kingdom under the Mountain.

In the book and in the movie Thorin is portrayed as a mercurial character, stubborn and one who does not tolerate being crossed. Once he has made his mind up, he will rarely shift, and these shortcomings become manifest once the Dwarves resume occupation of the Lonely Mountain. Thorin’s obsession with regaining his kingdom becomes an obsession to recover the Arkenstone and to gather together and protect the great horde of treasure that lies within the halls of the Mountain. Thorin’s obsession becomes destructive. The assumption of the crown of the Dwarves becomes symbolic of his fall, for he becomes an autocrat. His intolerance of any opinion other than his own, his gathering obsessions and his single-minded stubborness to acquire the Akenstone at any cost leaves Bilbo in a quandry, for, as we know, Bilbo has the great jewel. Bilbo sees Thorin’s fall and is unwilling to give him the Arkenstone. Perhaps he sees that possession of the gem will only magnify the nature of the decline. And so it is for, once he is aware of Bilbo’s treachery – so it is in Thorin’s eyes – he ignores the fact that it was through Bilbo’s efforts that they got into the Mountain – and he declares him anathema. He will tolerate no difference even from his loyal Dwarvish followers. Their consternation becomes clear. And so it is, as the armies gather and the negotiations and parleys fail, that Thorin isolates himself behind walls of stone.

Yet it is this final isolation that Thorin obtains insight. In a wonderful scene in the Dwarvish hall where Smaug was drowned in gold, Thorin realises what he has become. The scene is beautifully realised and could well become a classic of the tragic hero’s understanding of the nature of fall.

Thorin has a chance to redeem himself and does so. The crown which he assumed and which symbolised his fall is cast aside. He is a Dwarvish prince, now coming to the aid of his fellows, leading his followers in a last desperate sally forth to confront the age-old enemy. It is in the chapter “The Clouds Burst” that “The Hobbit” becomes a saga in the grand style. Tolkien’s language and style becomes that of the saga signers and chroniclers of old.

Part of the wall, moved by levers, fell outward with a crash into the pool. Out leapt the King under the Mountain, and his companions followed him. Hood and cloak were gone; they were in shining armour, and red light leapt from their eyes. In the gloom, the great dwarf gleamed like gold in a dying fire…..”To me! To me! Elves and Men! To me! O my kinsfolk” he cried and his voice shook like a horn in the valley”

Stirring stuff and wonderfully realised as Thorin returns to expunge the stain of his fall. But die he must and he does at the hands of the Orc Azog in a to and fro duel on a frozen mountain river. But, as is the case in the book, Thorin does one last act before he passes. He reconciles with Bilbo. The circle is complete. The tragic hero has rebalanced the ledger.

And that was it. And that was disappointing because Jackson could have done one last thing to redeem the tragic hero, Thorin. It is in the book and it may be in an extended DVD version when that is finally released. The scene is this:

“They buried Thorin deep beneath the Mountain, and Bard laid the Arkenstone upon his breast.

“There let it lie till the Mountain falls!” he said. “May it bring good fortune to all his folk that dwell here after!”

Upon his tomb the Elvenking then laid Orcrist, the elvish sword that had been taken from Thorin in captivity. It is said in songs that it gleamed ever in the dark if foes approached, and the fortress of the dwarves could not be taken by surprise.”

Another aspect of the movie which Jackson deals with, which is not a part of the book and references to which are made in “The Silmarillion”, “Unfinished Tales” and other collected works is the conflict between the White Council and the Necromancer at Dol Guldur. Although there are only hints in the various texts, Jackson develops the conflict and in doing so develops the character of Galadriel as one of the few beings able to confront the pure evil that is Sauron. The members of the White Council – Galadriel, Elrond, and Saruman arrive at Dol Guldur to liberate Gandalf and confront the Nine Ringwraiths – the mortal men doomed to die of the Ring verse. It is not clear – at least from a first viewing – whether the confrontation escalates through the Ringwraiths, who are dispersed, to Lord of the Nine or to Sauron himself. I believe that it was the Dark Lord himself – not at the full measure of his power – who was challenged by Galadriel. In this challenge Jackson draws upon Tolkien’s writings to present a true High Elven Queen. In the Lord of the Rings (The Fellowship of the Ring, Many Meetings), Gandalf refers to the High Elves – “the Elven-wise, lords of the Eldar from beyond the furthest seas. They do not fear the Ringwraiths, for those who have dwelt in the Blessed Realm live at once in both worlds, and against the Seen and Unseen they have great power.”

Frodo then says that he saw a white figure that shone and did not grow dim like the others, asking whether or not that was Glorfindel. Galdalf replies:

“Yes you saw him for a moment as he is on the other side: One of the mighty of the First-born. He is an Elf-lord of a house of princes.”

And thus is Galadriel portrayed, in her full power as a Noldorian princess. Yet there is another element, for it must be remembered that Galadriel is the holder of one of the three Rings for the Elevn Kings under the sky, Nenya, the Ring of Adamant. In the conflict with Sauron, it is Galadriel who confronts the Dark Lord and Jackson visualises this in that eathereal half-world into  which Frodo and Bilbo venture when they don the Ring. Which leads one to wonder whether or not Jackson envisaged Galadriel as using the power of one of the Elven Rings in the battle at Dol Guldur. We know, from what she says in Lord of the Rings, that she contests with Sauron – “I say to you, Frodo, that even as I speak to you, I perceive the Dark Lord and know his mind, or all of his mind that concerns the Elves. And he gropes ever to see me and my thought. But the door is closed.”

As a whole, the film works. There has been criticism of the 40 plus minute battle scene but that is an ill-informed and inaccurate criticism, for the conflict varies between armies and individuals – between Thranduil and the orcs in Erebor, Thorin and Azog on the frozen river, Legolas and Bolg in the mountains in the midst of mouldering masonry, and then the vast sweep of the main battle before the gates of the Mountian. There were times when I thought I was seeing a re-run of the Siege of Gondor and the Battle of the Pelennor Fields and the sally forth of Thorin from the Mountain was rather similar to the ride of the tragic hero Theoden – but without the rousing:

Arise, arise, Riders of Theoden

Fell deeds awake: fire and slaughter

spear shall be shaken, shield be splintered

a sword day, a red day, ere the sun rises!

Ride now; ride now! Ride to Gondor!

And at the end, the circle, like a Ring, is closed, for the film closes with the opening of The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring.

It is well done.

The Chiefest and Greatest of Calamities

Smaug is what we of Othello’s trade call an area weapon: precise location of the target is not required, nor is fastidious marksmanship necessary for good terminal effect.

 “The Individuated Hobbit – Jung, Tolkien, and the Archetypes of Middle-Earth” by Timothy O’Neill (Houghton Mifflin 1979)

I wrote a year ago in anticipation of the release of “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” and in that piece addressed the nature of Smaug the Dragon. I took the opportunity on Friday 13 December to have a look at “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug” It was a wonderful rendering of a collection of various elements that appear primarily in “The Hobbit” but also in the Appendices to “The Lord of the Rings” and in “Unfinished Tales”.

I have to hand it to Peter Jackson that he and his team seemed to have dreamed the same dream as I have when it comes to rendering the dwelling of the Elves and the musical liet-motifs that accompany them. Thranduil’s realm was beautifully created and the King himself was as mercurial and unpredictable as he appeared in the book – perhaps even more so. He seems to lack some of the ethereal beauty of the Eldar but after all – he is Sindar and a Wood Elf at that. But it is not of Mirkwood or the Elves or the Spiders that I write. Nor is it of Laketown ruled by the Master, marvellously overacted by Stephen Fry in much the same way as Barry Humphries went over the top with the Goblin King in “The Unexpected Journey”. In both cases they work splendidly.

The real centerpiece is the conversation with Smaug and the calamitous aftermath. But first things first. Smaug is pronounced “Smowg” as in “ow” and not “or”. I must confess to having thought in the past the pronunciation was Smorg   but then I was inconsistent because Sauron was always Sowron and never Soron. It is all made clear in the 5th Appendix to “The Lord of the Rings” and all disputes can be resolved with a quick reference to that part of the text. It brooks no argument and Jackson has it right.


As to the dragon himself. In many respects the movie Smaug represents the archetype of the evil, malevolent, devious and malicious dragon. My own impression of dragons was shaped at an early age from a reading of Kenneth Graham’s “The Reluctant Dragon” and from Tolkien’s “Chrysophylax Dives” in “Farmer Giles of Ham”. Then along came “The Hobbit” and Smaug was one of the first big nasty dragons but within the context of a book for a younger audience not the sort of beast that would scare your socks off.

Then came the novella “Dragonrider” by Anne McCaffrey which won a Hugo and was later transformed into a novel which was the first of the wonderful and evocative “Dragonriders of Pern” series. A different sort of dragon altogether. Then came the dragons that were mentioned in Tolkien’s other writings – Ancalagon the Black and Scatha who appear by mention only and the frightful Glaurung from the various tellings of the tale of Turin Turambar. By the time we reach Glaurung we know that Tolkien understands his monsters and dragons in particular. Although Grendel and Grendel’s mother are not dragons they are monsters and Tolkien’s analysis of the monster motif in “Beowulf: The Monster and the Critics” makes it clear that the nature of the beast villain is well known to the writer.

But Jackson’s rendering of Smaug takes the evil dragon to a whole new level. I had the impression that there was a lot of Fafnir – the giant turned dragon and hoarder of the Rhinegold in Wagner’s “Der Ring des Nibelungen” – in Smaug but there were other features as well. We never saw Smaug in “An Unexpected Journey” but he is gradually, tantalisingly revealed throughout his interview with Bilbo in the vast expanse of the treasure cave where he dwells, concealed by mountains of his gold with which he will part not one piece. And Bilbo seeks the most unique piece of the dwarven treasure of all – the Arkenstone. Smaug understands this in short order strips Bilbo’s prevarications away. The Hobbit is a threat to the treasure and is an ally of the hated dwarves. Only by using the ring does Bilbo escape the jaws of the beast and even then Smaug with a dragon’s sense for anything golden knows that there is magic in the air. It is at this stage that Smaug is revealed in all his horrifying might – a creature not only of intelligence, Machiavellian cunning and subtlety but of terrifying and destructive power.

The voice of Smaug is Benedict Cumberbatch who does a magnificent job bringing light and shade to the creature, creating a nuanced character full of menace until he is fully revealed in the white heat of his wrath. We last see Smaug heading for Laketown and the movie ends.

Peter Jackson has redefined the dragon in art. Smaug takes many elements of dragons in myth, legend, literature and performance art and moulds them all together into an instantly recognisable and yet unique recasting of the evil monster.

As Bilbo is conducting his conversation with Smaug, the dwarves wait outside the back gate. The rumbling from deep within the mountain can be heard and the younger dwarves question what it may be. Balin son of Fundin, he who was later to go to Moria and meet his own nemesis in the form of the Balrog replies – “that, laddie, was a dragon”.

He was so right. Jackson’s rendering is unmistakably, magnificently, awfully a dragon – the chiefest and greatest of calamities.

Smaug 2


For some general bakgorund information on Smaug see the Tolkien Gateway

For a piece on the history of dragons from the Satanic lizards of the Bible to the Jungian monsters in us all see this piece from The Guardian