A Quick Guide to the Second Age of Middle-Earth Before You Watch The Rings of Power

A Quick Guide to the Second Age of Middle-Earth

Interested in watching The Rings of Power, but not sure what the show is about? Intimidated by the vast lore of Middle-earth? Wanting a quick guide to give you just enough background to understand the show, without having to delve into thousands of years of Middle-earth history? Below we have compiled some questions you might have about the show and the events it might cover.

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Which of Tolkien’s writings does the show have access to?

Although the events of the show are covered most extensively in The Silmarillion, Unfinished Tales, and The History of Middle-Earth, the showrunners do not have rights to these books. (For those unfamiliar with these works, Unfinished Tales and the multi-volume History of Middle-Earth series contain J. R. R. Tolkien’s drafts on Middle-earth and its development. The Silmarillion was Tolkien’s son Christopher’s attempt to form these manuscripts into a cohesive story.)

The showrunners have rights to The Lord of the Rings (including the appendices) and The Hobbit, so they are arguably somewhat limited in what they can cover. However, they can pull from references made to past events (things like Bilbo’s song about Eärendil), as well as from the historical summaries and timelines given in the LotR appendices.

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What events does the show cover?

The show is supposed to cover the Second Age of Middle-earth. For context, The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings are set in the Third Age.

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Give me a brief summary of the Ages of Middle-Earth?


Eru/Ilúvatar (basically God) creates the Valar. These are supernatural beings who function as gods/angels under Ilúvatar. The Valar help Ilúvatar sing Arda (the world) into being. One of the Valar, Melkor/Morgoth, goes rogue and introduces evil into creation. Morgoth later enters Arda and attempts to claim it as his own.

Other of the Valar also choose to enter Arda. They choose Manwë as their king and spend years fighting Morgoth to prepare the world for the coming of Elves and Men, the Children of Ilúvatar.

The First Age

The Elves are the first Children of Ilúvatar to awaken. Many choose to leave the lands where the Dark Lord Morgoth is still at large, and remove to Valinor–the land where the Valar dwell.

In Valinor, the Elf Fëanor creates the Silmarils, wondrous jewels that contain the light of two blessed Trees made by the Valar. Morgoth covets the Silmarils, so he travels to Valinor, destroys the Trees and steals the jewels. Enraged and blaming the Valar for the loss of his creations, Fëanor leaves against the will of the Valar and takes an Oath with his sons to pursue Morgoth and the Silmarils.

Many Elves leave with Fëanor to make their own realms in Middle-Earth, and some kill other Elves in the attempt to get ships to depart. The Doom of Mandos is pronounced against those who participated in the Kinslaying, barring Valinor to the rebellious Elves. Galadriel and her brother Finrod also depart Valinor, though they did not participate in the Kinslaying. (One version of the story says Galadriel fought against the Kinslayers! See Unfinished Tales.)

The Elves in Middle-earth spend long years fighting Morgoth and trying to reclaim the Silmarils. Galadriel’s brother Finrod dies at the hands of Sauron, Morgoth’s lieutenant. Morgoth’s eventual defeat marks the end of the First Age.

The Second Age

At the start of the Second Age, Morgoth has been defeated, but his lieutenant Sauron escapes. The Valar gift the Men who helped in the fight against Morgoth an island. There they found the realm of Númenor. Númenor is close to Valinor, but the Númenoreans are forbidden to sail there (the Ban of the Valar). Eventually, Sauron will arrive in Númenor, and inflame the people’s jealousy of Elven immortality and their resentment against the Ban of the Valar. When the Númenoreans ultimately rebel against the Valar, and attempt to sail West, Númenor is destroyed and the shape of the world is changed, preventing Men from attempting to sail to Valinor ever again. Exiles from Númenor found the kingdoms of Arnor and Gondor in Middle-earth.

Before Sauron’s arrival in Númenor, however, he has tricked some Elven-smiths into forging the Rings of Power. The Elves eventually perceives Sauron’s treachery when Sauron puts on the One Ring, meant to control the other rings. Celebrimbor has forged three rings without Sauron’s assistance. The Elves hide these.

The Second Age ends with the overthrow of Sauron and the taking of the One Ring by Isildur, an exile from Númenor.

The Third Age

The Third Age is the Age of the events of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. It ends with the War of the Ring, the final overthrow of Sauron, and the passage of the Elf Elrond over the sea to the Undying Lands.

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What history do you need to know to understand the basic premise of The Rings of Power?

Basically, understand that Sauron (the villain of The Lord of the Rings) was once the mere lieutenant of a scarier Dark Lord named Morgoth. His master has been overthrown, but Sauron is still at large and poised to begin his own evil empire, and revenge himself on the Elves and Men who defeated Morgoth. If you want a fuller picture, you can read the brief descriptions of the First Age above.

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What are the Rings of Power?

During the Second Age, under the guise of friendship, Sauron instructs the Elf-smiths of Eregion in the forging of the Rings of Power. Celebrimbor, the grandson of Fëanor, is the greatest of the smiths. Sauron and the Elves forge 16 rings together. Celebrimbor forges three alone. Then Sauron forges the One Ring in secret in Mount Doom. The One Ring is bound to the rest, so Sauron can see and govern the thoughts of the other ring wearers. The Elves realize Sauron’s treachery when he puts on the One Ring, and they take off their rings. Sauron reclaims the original 16 and gives nine to Men and seven to the Dwarves, in an effort to rule and control them. Celebrimbor and the Elves hide his three rings. One goes to Galadriel, one to Gil-Galad, one to Círdan. The Elven rings are still bound to the One, however, and cannot be used openly. (See The Silmarillion for more details.)

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Why is Galadriel a warrior in this show?

There are many versions of Galadriel’s history and they often contradict each other. Some of them hint at a potential fighting background. One quote in Unfinished Tales mentions that, “She [Galadriel] was strong of body, mind, and will, a match for both the loremasters and the athletes of the Eldar in the days of their youth.” Later, in a letter, J. R. R. Tolkien described Galadriel as having an “Amazon disposition” and binding her hair up when participating in athletics. This, coupled with various mentions of her will to rule a realm of her own in Middle-earth–and her departing from Valinor to do so against the will of the Valar–is presumably the basis to make Galadriel a headstrong warrior in the show.

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What happened to fan favorite characters such as Frodo and Aragorn?

Sorry, they won’t be born for another couple thousand years! Characters like Galadriel and Elrond are around because Elves have long lifespans and are essentially immortal, unless they die by some physical hurt such as in war.

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Why are there no Hobbits?

Tolkien’s writings indicate that Hobbits did little of historical note before the Third Age. And, really, The Silmarillion is the history of the world as told by (and concerning) the Elves. So, presumably, to give people familiar with the LotR movie more Hobbits, the showrunners turned to Harfoots, which are supposed to be the ancestors of the Hobbits. Hobbits, one might note, did not move into the Shire until the Third Age.

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Who is Gil-galad?

Gil-galad is the High King of the Noldor (one of various groupings of Elves) in Middle-earth. He rules over the realm of Lindon and will fight alongside Men to overthrow Sauron at the end of the Second Age. (Sam sings about Gil-galad and his final fight in The Lord of the Rings.)

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Check Out These Sources!

J. R. R. Tolkien never finished compiling the history of Middle-earth, so some accounts of histories and character backstories will differ depending on which manuscript or book you read! Below are the sources used in this post to try to summarize briefly (and broadly) the history of the First and Second Ages. Be aware, however, that many stories were never finalized. Galadriel’s history in particular was reworked many times!

  • The Letters of J. R. R. Tolkien, ed. by Humphrey Carpenter with Christopher Tolkien
  • The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien
  • The Silmarillion by J. R. R. Tolkien
  • Unfinished Tales by J. R. R. Tolkien, ed. by Christopher Tolkien

Have more questions about the characters or the Second Age? Let us know in the comments and we’ll do our best to answer! (And undoubtedly other Tolkien fans will be able to help out, as well!)

13 thoughts on “A Quick Guide to the Second Age of Middle-Earth Before You Watch The Rings of Power

    • Briana | Pages Unbound says:

      If you want just what can technically be covered in the show, I’d read the appendices in LotR. And then the Akallabêth section in the Silmarillion, which covers the Downfall of Numenor and may be helpful for context even though Amazon doesn’t have the rights to use it in the show.

      Tea with Tolkien has an accessible guide to the whole Silmarillion on her web site if you ever want to tackle it, and she has a pretty funny Twitter account. And @tolkienprof is a good Twitter account, too!


      • Krysta says:

        I was going to recommend The Silmarillion! Unfinished Tales and The History of Middle-Earth aren’t cohesive stories, so they can be hard to follow if you don’t already have the general storyline as put out in The Silmarillion.

        I think Christopher Tolkien regretted the extensive editing he did in The Silmarillion, leading him later to publish mostly collections of his father’s drafts. But it is helpful, from the perspective of a general reader, to have a book that reads like an actual story.


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