Amazon’s new TV seriesis a bit controversial for some. There are vocal groups concerned, showrunners JD Payne and Patrick McKay won’t go out of their way to ensure this show is consistent with the collected works of JRR Tolkien and may add things that Tolkien wouldn’t approve of. For many Tolkien fans, this is a song we’ve heard before. Doubts have been raised about every modern Tolkien story brought to the screen, including Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings films.
While each episode of The Rings of Power will have a recap article courtesy of CNET’s Erin Carson, this article will be devoted solely to analyzing how well each episode sticks to what Tolkien wrote.
To be clear, this analysis does not include:
- Whether people of color should be on screen as dwarves, elves or Harfoots ( end of conversation).
- Whether dwarven women should have beards (Tolkien was never clear on this so I won’t take a stand).
- Whether Tolkien is okay with people making things up in his world (this 1951 letter from Tolkien to his publisher clarifies his position).
Episode 1: Shadow of the Past
This episode broadly introduces the world and several separate stories that are seemingly destined to intersect. Check out our full recap for more.
Dagger of Finrod Felegund
In our opening scene, young Galadriel’s beautiful ship is destroyed and her big brother stops her from beating the culprit within an inch of his life for being such a tool. This scene is the first time we see Finrod’s dagger, which Galadriel takes as her own as she searches for the enemy responsible for his death.
This dagger is beautiful, but there is no evidence that it existed in any of Tolkien’s works. Canonically we know that Finrod had a sword and a bow. But we also know he was a noble, and in the few pieces of pre-Rings art we have of Finrod, he’s wearing some beautiful custom jewelry and weapons, including the Ring of Barahir, which eventually finds its way into Aragorn’s hand. A dagger is not something Tolkien wrote, but it is also likely that he would have had one.
It is apparently a representation of Telperion and Laurelin, the twin trees of Valinor that created sunlight and moonlight for the world before they were destroyed and their last remaining fruit and flower turned into the sun and moon for Middle-earth. There appear to be three similar orbs on the dagger, between the silver and gold trees, which would almost certainly be a representation of the three silmarils. Finrod was a major part of the conflicts surrounding the destruction of the trees and Feanor’s Oath, so wearing the symbol of these events is entirely believable.
Where things get a little unclear is Finrod with that dagger in the opening scene with Galadriel. According to Tolkien, Galadriel was born about 90 years before the creation of the Silmarils. Elves mature physically during the first 100 years of their existence and then age much, much more slowly. At 90 years old, Galadriel would look at least a few years older than she is portrayed on screen.
Its a big problem? Not at all. Do I want another one of those daggers? Absolutely.
Crossing the Sundering Seas
There is nothing technically wrong with this scene. The Elves left Valinor to wage a thousand-year war across much of Middle-earth, which resulted in Morgoth being stopped and Sauron in some sort of hiding.
But my god, this scene left out a lot. An entire season of this show could have been devoted to just this handful of sentences recapping how the elves ended up in Middle-earth. If you are curious, read the ninth chapter of the Quenta Silmarillion, entitled Of the Fight of the Ñoldor.
If the name of this village didn’t sound familiar, you weren’t alone. Tolkien didn’t create Tirharada, but he didn’t create anything in that area that would later become Mordor. We know that men lived in what was then called the Southlands because Tolkien wrote of Shelob hunting men and elves before Sauron took the land as Mordor.
The name Tirharad is a portmanteau of the words “watch” and “south” in Sindarin, which makes some sense given how the village is essentially guarded by Sylvan elves from their watchtower. This episode describes how the descendants of the men who served Morgoth have settled in the area, and the Elves keep a close eye on them, fearing that corruption may once again enter their hearts. We know that some men served Morgoth, whose fortress Udûn existed in the northeastern part of the area that later became Mordor, so it is not a section where men settled after the wars.
Galadriel’s return to Valinor
It has long been suspected that Galadriel was either forbidden to return to Valinor or did not believe she deserved to return to Valinor, largely due to this line in Galadriel’s Song of Eldamar:
What ship would ever carry me back across such a wide sea?
This scene shows Galadriel being rewarded (sort of) with the ability to return home along with the rest of her company. Although Tolkien wrote that some elves were allowed to return home after the War of Wrath, it was never explicitly stated that Galadriel was among them. It was written that many of the High Elves chose to stay in Middle-earth even as more of their kind returned home, and Galadriel’s activities during this time are not well documented, so this new story fills in those gaps with new kinds of adventures.
Episode 2: Adrift
With a pair of mischievous Harfoots trying to take care of the Stranger, Galadriel trying to swim across the Sundering Sea to find a few ways to screw up, Tirharad having a problem with pest control, and Prince Durin having an ax to grind with Elrond, this is a busy one episode. Check out the full recap here and analysis of the lore below.
Nori doesn’t have such a hot leg
It’s easy to hear Nori say the fire isn’t hot and immediately think of Frodo’s reaction to the One Ring coming out of the fireplace onto his hand, but the two are almost certainly unrelated. Nowhere in Tolkien’s works is there any mention of a magical fire that isn’t hot, but there’s a lot about the character known only as The Stranger that doesn’t quite add up yet.
This scene has other rumors that The Stranger is a wizard and that the fire is actually the Flame of Anor or the light of the Sun. It is not yet clear how this character and his abilities fit into what we know of Middle-earth.
The ceremony of Sigin-tarâg
Not a ton is known about what the dwarves go to in their halls under the mountains, because they do not often invite people who are not their relatives. The few exceptions in the Second Age are mostly elves, who worked closely with dwarven smiths to create a lot of different things that we get to see in the show, but not in this episode. So even though Tolkien never wrote about Elrond claiming the Sigin-tarâg ceremony, there is a ton of blank space when it comes to what the dwarves did in private.
Sigin-tarâg does not refer to any kind of competition. The word translates as longbeard, which is another name for Durin’s people or this particular type of dwarf. In this context, the Sigin-tarâg ceremony is exactly as Durin explains it, a test of endurance created by his people to settle internal disputes. It’s not something we’ve ever seen, and nothing we’ll ever see in the Third Age because of what happened to Durin’s people, so it’s likely that such a challenge would exist.
Since this is not a character created by Tolkien, there is no record of him helping the dwarven miners do their thing in a special way. Dwarven women were kept from battle and as a result are not really mentioned much at all in Tolkien’s works. But we do know that dwarves were said to be the best miners in the world because they were created for that purpose.
Tolkien never really elaborates on what specific abilities the dwarves have when it comes to mining, only that Aulë taught them special skills in creating the seven original dwarven lords.
Orcs under the floorboards
There are many examples of Orc tunneling in Middle-earth, and these tunnels usually lead to what Tolkien called Orc Holds. Some of these goblin holdings were small, like the ones we saw in this episode, while others took up entire mountains, like those in Mount Gundabad, which the orcs hold for most of the Second Age.
We know Tirharad isn’t the place Tolkien created, but its proximity to what would soon become Mordor makes it the perfect place for goblin digs.