10 Nonfiction Books about Tolkien and His Works If You Don’t Know Where to Start

Every year on March 25, the anniversary of the Downfall of Sauron, the Tolkien Society hosts Tolkien Reading Day. This year’s theme selected by the Tolkien Society is Travel and Adventure. The primary goal is to promote the reading of the works of J.R R. Tolkien! To celebrate, Pages Unbound will be hosting two weeks of Tolkien-related posts. In addition to our own thoughts, we will be featuring some guest posts!

Are you a J.R.R. Tolkien fan looking to branch out from reading his fiction to reading books about his books? Or perhaps a casual reader of Tolkien scholarship looking for some more reading suggestions? Here are 10 books to get you started.

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This is an obvious one for many avid Tolkien fans, but if you are just getting started about Tolkien and his works, you definitely want to read his letters! Topics range from answers to questions his fans sent about Middle-earth to his Catholic faith, and his personal life. It’s hard to find another book about Tolkien that doesn’t cite his letters!

2. Tolkien’s World from A to Z: The Complete Guide to Middle-earth by Robert Foster

As noted, it’s a reference guide. Very complete. Often recommended by people who take studying Tolkien seriously. You won’t be reading it cover to cover, but you will probably discover lots of information you didn’t know!

3. The Atlas of Middle-earth by Karen Wynn Fonstad

You get hundreds of maps of Middle-earth, focused on various events in Tolkien’s writing, and covering geography mentioned in the First, Second, and Third Ages! While it’s probably not a book you’ll just read through, it’s fun to glance through it, and it’s a great guide to have on hand while reading Tolkien’s work.

4. The Nature of Middle-earth by J.R.R. Tolkien and Carl F Hostetter

Nature of Middle-earth book cover

As Krysta notes in her review, this is a great book for anyone who really wants to dig into the minutia of Middle-earth and find the answers to pressing (or not so pressing) questions: “The Nature of Middle-Earth is not for the casual Tolkien fan, but rather for the reader who wants to know literally everything about Tolkien’s work, his process, and his musings. This collection is indeed more scholarly than otherwise, presenting multiple drafts of Tolkien working out his thoughts along with copious end notes, as well as a description of what each manuscript looks like–what kind of paper it was written on, with what kind of pen, in what kind of handwriting.”

5. The Road to Middle-earth by Tom Shippey

A classic book in the world of Tolkien studies, The Road to Middle-earth is definitely one you will want to check out! It has had a couple updates and continues to be praised by Tolkien scholars. If you read a lot about Tolkien, you will certainly see numerous references to it and Shippey’s work in general.

6. The Worlds of J. R. R. Tolkien: The Places That Inspired Middle-earth by John Garth

John Garth is a must-read author when it comes to Tolkien! Krysta has already recommended his book Tolkien and the Great War, so here I recommend his latest, The Worlds of J.R.R. Tolkien, which talks about Tolkien’s own travel, reading, and experiences to get at what places might have been the real-life inspiration for things in his fiction.

7. Tolkien, Race and Cultural History: From Fairies to Hobbits by Dimitra Fimi

I have not yet read this one personally because, well, the price, but it is consistently recommended by people well-versed in Tolkien studies if you want to read about race in Tolkien!

8. Tolkien and Alterity edited by Christopher Vaccaro and Yvette Kisor

Tolkien and Alterity book cover

Another book on, uh, obviously Tolkien and alterity. Fimi’s work is more widely praised, but this is a collection of essays from various contributors, so you can pick and choose what sounds interesting to you. The book description says: “. Each essay takes as its central position the idea that how Tolkien responds to that which is different, to that which is ‘Other,’ serves as a register of his ethics and moral philosophy. In the aggregate, they provide evidence of Tolkien’s acceptance of alterity.”

9. Perilous and Fair: Women in the Works and Life of J.R.R. Tolkien ed. by Janet Brennan Croft and Leslie A. Donovan

This essay collection is essential reading for anyone who loves Tolkien, and it will provide some eye-opening arguments for anyone who thinks Tolkien’s women are flat or his portrayals are sexist. The authors consistently offer evidence that while, of course, Tolkien would not have held the views of a 21st-century feminist, the women in his books are nuanced and powerful and generally subvert gender expectations rather than fulfill them. Tolkien was also a champion of women academics in his personal life, and we have no evidence to suggest he didn’t like or respect women.

10. A Fan’s Guide to Neo-Sindarin: A Textbook for the Elvish of Middle-earth by Fiona Jallings

I have not read this one myself (I, sadly, do not know how to speak or read Elvish, though many people assume I do). But I have seen it recommended by people I trust as a fantastic book to get if you want to learn Elvish (or, rather, Neo-Sindarin). It is apparently more accurate than The Languages of Tolkien’s Middle-Earth: A Complete Guide to All Fourteen of the Languages Tolkien Invented by Ruth S. Noe, which you will probably see come up in searches if you start looking into books to learn Elvish.

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Bonus: Coming December 2023

Pity, Power, and Tolkien’s Ring: To Rule the Fate of Many by Thomas P. Hillman

I’ve followed Tom’s blog and Twitter for several years, so I am looking forward to this book!

(No official description of the book is available yet.)


In Defense of Morfydd Clark’s Galadriel in The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power (Guest Post by Charles Larrivee)

Every year on March 25, the anniversary of the Downfall of Sauron, the Tolkien Society hosts Tolkien Reading Day. This year’s theme selected by the Tolkien Society is Hope and Courage. The primary goal is to promote the reading of the works of J.R R. Tolkien! To celebrate, Pages Unbound will be hosting two weeks of Tolkien-related posts. In addition to our own thoughts, we will be featuring a number of guest posts!

Note from Briana: As many of our readers will know, Amazon released their take on Middle-earth’s Second Age, The Rings of Power, in 2022. One of the first controversies surrounding the show was the depiction of Galadriel as a soldier. Today’s guest poster has written extensively about the portrayal of Galadriel in The Rings of Power, so we are including some excerpts from longer posts here and hope you will click through to Substack to read the essays in full. The first excerpt here is from “The Sunne in Splendour: A Character Defense of Morfydd Clark’s Galadriel in The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power:”

Many skilled artists have contributed their talents to depicting this Elven lady in paintings, portraits and other forms of art. But for nearly 20 years, Cate Blanchett’s regal, ethereal and distant portrayal had been the gold standard for cinematic portrayals, and had become nearly synonymous with how people saw the character. Even a more political and badass depiction in The Hobbit trilogy didn’t shake this perception of Galadriel as an almost Marian figure. So when Vanity Fair, in our first ever serious look at The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power in February 2022, depicted Morfydd Clark’s Galadriel in a full suit of mid-15th century plate armor and described her as “Commander of the Northern Armies…as angry and brash as she is clever” a certain segment of the internet predictably erupted. To them, this was just one more indication that Amazon was intent on turning this character into nothing more than a vehicle for a woke, feminist agenda. This group of online folks was never large, but it was loud. And once the show aired they received reinforcements, for the character of Galadriel that was depicted here was a far cry from the serene vision of grace and wisdom that Blanchett showed. If you ask people to describe this version of Galadriel, you’re most likely to hear a whole host of unflattering adjectives: proud, petulant, childish, stupid, incompetent, ruthless, arrogant, brash, single-minded, genocidal, psychotic…I could go on. And, miracle of miracles, this line of thought has united both the online left and right, with commentary ranging from alt-right fanatic Nerdrotic calling her “Guyladriel” to politically liberal critic Grace Randolph being the first to refer to her as a “Mary Sue” and “Karen.”

But Morfydd’s Galadriel did not lack defenders either. Like Gimli threatening to fight 200 Rohirrim over a perceived slight to his Lady, or Richard of Gloucester riding to the rescue of his brother’s vanguard at the Battle of Tewkesbury, far more people have stood up for this interpretation of Galadriel ever since that Vanity Fair article. Their arguments, based on a willingness to keep an open mind, an engagement with everything that Tolkien wrote about the character as seen in his wider legendarium, and actually watching the show rather than some rage-baiting, hatemongering video on Youtube, have long rested on stronger footing than those of the other side. I am proud to be one of these people, not only because it is the right thing to do, but because this cause has inspired me to learn even more about Tolkien, his world and his ideals. I have come a very long way from my first Twitter thread defending Morfydd Clark’s Galadriel back on September 4 last year, and I will doubtless continue to journey. To everyone who has paved the way before me, I thank you, and hope that this essay will be a worthy contribution to this cause.

The Sunne in Splendour

The second excerpt is from “Triumphant Leader: A Defense of Galadriel’s Depiction As a Warrior in The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power:”

Much as is the case when trying to learn about Galadriel’s character, The Silmarillion at least initially doesn’t give us much information about her physical appearance or attributes. For that, we have to turn to Unfinished Tales, where we read the following: “Her mother-name was Nerwen (Man-Maiden) and she grew to be tall even beyond the measure of the women of the Noldor. She 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.” We learn even more in Letter 348, where Tolkien wrote to Mrs. Catherine Findlay: “She was then of Amazon disposition and bound up her hair as a crown when taking part in athletic feats.” So, it’s clear that Galadriel in her youth was a far cry from a static, regal sorceress, but was an athlete, a tomboy, and exceptionally physically powerful even for an Elven lady. And Elven ladies are already fast and strong, to a degree that we could describe as superhuman. In Morgoth’s Ring, the tenth volume of the History of Middle Earth, we read that “there was less difference in strength and speed between elven-men and elven-women that had not borne child than is seen among mortals.” A sentiment that is repeated in the more recent compendium The Nature of Middle Earth.

Some people will argue that this doesn’t necessarily translate to Galadriel actually being a warrior, or having a martial spirit. True, and for that we need to look at the phrase “Amazon disposition.” Tolkien wasn’t just using this as a word for a strong, athletic woman, although Galadriel would certainly count. No, he was using this for an actual warrior woman. Only two other women in his entire legendarium are described using this word, and in both cases they are explicitly warriors. In the essay on the Druedain from Unfinished Tales, we read of Haleth of the Edain that she was “a renowned Amazon with a picked bodyguard of women.” The Silmarillion goes into more detail, telling the story of how when Haleth’s people were attacked by orcs and her father and brother were slain by them, she took up arms and led the defense for seven days until they were relieved by the Sons of Feanor. And in the Book of Lost Tales, we read of Measse, one of the first Vala conceived by Tolkien, who is described as a “war goddess” and an “Amazon of the bloody arms.” Tolkien, let us remember, was a philologist, a student of language, words and their uses. When he refers to Galadriel, Haleth and Measse as Amazons, he had a very specific reason for doing so, and it wasn’t physical appearance; Galadriel was a Noldorin elf, Haleth a mortal woman, and Measse a demigod. Something else links these three women. And since in two of those cases that purpose is to illustrate their martial characteristics, it stands to reason that the third instance would be a warrior as well.

Triumphant Warrior

Dualism in LeGuin & Tolkien: On the Inseparable, Uncertain Nature of Light and Darkness (Guest Post by Ari)

Every year on March 25, the anniversary of the Downfall of Sauron, the Tolkien Society hosts Tolkien Reading Day. This year’s theme selected by the Tolkien Society is Hope and Courage. The primary goal is to promote the reading of the works of J.R R. Tolkien! To celebrate, Pages Unbound will be hosting two weeks of Tolkien-related posts. In addition to our own thoughts, we will be featuring a number of guest posts!

It’s difficult to imagine what the literary works of Ursula K. LeGuin and J.R.R Tolkien might have in common. Though both authors shared a deep love of history and mythology, LeGuin’s stories appear to be predominantly influenced by Taoism, C.G Jung, feminism, and her experience growing up across the span of three major wars: WWII, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War. However, I found myself pondering all the ways the presence of dualism stuck out to me in Le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness. The novel not only explores the natures of good and evil; it poses the question of whether such conflict between the two is necessary. Examining examples from The Left Hand of Darkness, The Lord of the Rings, and The Silmarillian, I will analyze how each of the stories uniquely tackle and confront the uncertain nature of light and darkness.

“Light is the left hand of darkness, and darkness the right hand of light. Two are one, life and death, lying together like lovers in kemmer, like hands joined together, like the end and the way.”

The Left Hand of Darkness (1933)

As the Gethen poem above indicates, dualism is not simply a central theme in Le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness; it is the essence of the languages, histories, and biologies of the people who inhabit this world. There are the Yomeshta who follow the way of Meshe (reminiscent of Christianity) and the Handdara (similar to Taoism) who are most interested in the dance between light and dark or the known versus the unknown. This alone is representative of  the differences between Eastern and Western philosophies, but what makes each religious group interesting is their perspective of good and evil.

In the eyes of the Yomeshta, there is only the path of light and clarity. They seek knowledge, foresight, and exclusively celebrate life. In contrast, Handdara is the embodiment of dualism itself. Literally. They are neither male nor female, but can become either during times of sexual interest. Their entire perspective is concerned with states of being that oppose or complement, a cycle striving for balance. Like the Yomeshta, they celebrate life, but unlike the others, the Handdara embrace the inevitability of death. It is, to them, the only permanent fact that exists in the whole of the universe because “the only thing that makes life possible is permanent, intolerable uncertainty; not knowing what comes next.”

“But it was from the difference between us, not from the affinities and likenesses, but from the difference, that that love came: and it was itself the bridge, the only bridge, across what divided us…”

The Left Hand of Darkness

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the Handdara religion is that this inherent  “darkness” is not necessarily evil anymore than the light is good. In many ways, this reminds me of Gollum from The Lord of the Rings, who possesses both of these sides, but whether or not he’s defined as “evil” depends on his interactions with other characters and his current state. Throughout the series, Gollum swings between these two states, failing to achieve balance, but there are moments in which he inspires pity rather than hatred. Sam is suspicious of him, but Frodo is not. Is this because Gollum is pretending to be good, or has he so deeply rejected the “dark” side of himself that murdered his own friend over the Ring and no longer has control over it? In The Fellowship of the Ring, Frodo struggles to accept that Gollum was once a Hobbit, too (or close enough to one) and that his own distant kin was capable of such deeds. This rejection, too, leads to a sort of fall into the darkside, with Frodo briefly taken over by the Ring and refusing to throw it into Mt. Doom. So it is a refusal to acknowledge weaknesses that inevitably lead to falling prey to them? I certainly think, on some level, this is what Le Guin is attempting to articulate in The Left Hand of Darkness. If darkness/death is inevitable, is it then necessary for light/life and vice versa?

In The Silmarillion, Eru Ilúvatar is the father of everything. There was supposedly nothing prior to his creation of the Ainur, who were the “offsprings of his thought.”  Among his children was Melkor, a character who we know is later associated with the darkness that fell upon Middle-earth. But in the beginning, there was only music and light. It was only when Melkor rebelled against Ilúvatar’s song that darkness supposedly crept in. But where did the darkness in Melkor come from? Like the Handdara, who avoid too much knowledge for its fruitlessness and the agony it brings, there seems to be a theme in The Silmarillion that too much knowledge leads to destruction. This is not unlike its Christian origins. And although the Handdara do shun unnecessary knowledge, the Yomeshta embrace it.

Furthermore,  we examine The Lord of the Rings in a purely symbolic nature, I would argue the Elves could be representative of light and Sauron of darkness, with humanity struggling to come to terms with both (or balance them). Elves are rather feminine and wise, versus masculine Melkor/Sauron of brute strength. If we ignore the history and observe the archetypes, it’s possible to see the threads of dualism in Tolkien’s work, even if through a slightly different theological lens.

However, the biggest difference between the two is The Silmarillion seems to generally deny the co-existence and co-dependence of light and darkness. Outside of blurring the lines with Frodo, Gollum, and a handful of other characters, there is still an obvious  distinction between good and evil.  It is not them, but the influence of The Ring. At the same time, characters such as Melkor and Sauron are clearly irredeemable, with trolls, dragons, and orcs naturally falling to the dark side right along with them. Pejoratives are often used to reference the darkness, such as “Black-Land” or “Shadow.” Even the physical descriptions of the dark beings illustrated against them, all for the sake of the reading knowing “this is a bad guy.”   In contrast, the Elves of Middle-earth remain as defenders of men, wise councils, and part of the “natural” world.  They are beautiful and create beautiful things, despite sorrow and war. But they are not permanently marred by darkness. Even Aragorn touches on this passing embrace of light and dark; it is not a thing that is always with humanity, but rather a brief moment that must be endured:

“The dying of one day is what leads to hope of the next; men must pass through the shadows of darkness.”

Aragorn, The Lord of the Rings

Thus darkness, in Tolkien’s world, is not a prolonged state for mankind. It may be reoccuring, but there are rises and falls in power. There are strict moral lines to mind and roads, that once tread upon, must be seen until the end. Perhaps this mirrors his experience during WW1 or his focus was on the optimism and heroism of man. This doesn’t make his stories less realistic or modern; in fact, it speaks to the strengths of mankind. There is much sorrow, but there is also joy. There is loss, but there’s also love. There is friendship and peace in between the utter chaos of war. However, Left Hand of Darkness captures another side to existence, one where the boundaries between strengths  and weaknesses are not defined as good or bad. Rather, as unfortunate but necessary parts to function as a whole. How else could we define such beauty without also knowing hideousness? Kindness without cruelty? Life without death? Middle-earth could not become what it was without the arrival of Melkor or the evils of the Ring. Without darkness, there would be no way to step into the light.

About the Author

Ari Augustine is a writer of adult speculative fiction, published poet, and freelance book editor. Often lyrical, sentimental, and dark in nature, her stories feature immersive worlds and intimate characters centered around conflicts of the human condition. You can check out her website Ari Augustine Editorial here.

My First Trip to Middle-earth: Why I Read The Lord of the Rings for the First Time (Guest Post by Michael)

Every year on March 25, the anniversary of the Downfall of Sauron, the Tolkien Society hosts Tolkien Reading Day. This year’s theme selected by the Tolkien Society is Hope and Courage. The primary goal is to promote the reading of the works of J.R R. Tolkien! To celebrate, Pages Unbound will be hosting two weeks of Tolkien-related posts. In addition to our own thoughts, we will be featuring a number of guest posts!

Oh what a night, late December back in 2001.  The cold and the snow.  Being bundled up tight in our winter coats as we walked to the car.  The excitement and joy as my freshman year of undergrad reached Christmas break and Missy, my best friend from high school, was home on leave.  But what I remember most from this particular night is turning to Missy – who had the same stunned look on her face – as the credits started to roll on The Fellowship of the Ring.  We were absolutely certain we’d missed something.  That couldn’t be the end.  Frodo and Sam crest the ridge, see Mordor, and the movie just…stopped.  It would be six years before Iron Man made post-credit scenes a thing but we stayed in our seats until they turned the house lights on.  You see, we were “those people,” watching Peter Jackson’s film never having read Tolkien’s novels.  So Missy and I were expecting a trilogy like Star Wars with three distinct chapters but found ourselves at the beginning of one loooong story whose ending we wouldn’t see until December of 2003.

You may be a bit surprised by that last sentence, given the title of this piece. You may’ve expected I’d go out the next day, buy the books, and begin reading Tolkien’s epic for the first time. I’m not sure why I didn’t. I never shied away from large books and I enjoyed reading fantasy (Terry Goodkind’s Sword of Truth series and Steven Brust’s The Book of Jhereg were favorites). Maybe it’s as simple as sometimes we define ourselves by what we don’t watch or read. For example, I’ve never seen Titanic or Avatar (unless you count Dances with Wolves or Pocahontas or Fern Gully: The Last Rainforest or any movie where a white soldier from an industrial society befriends a group of indigenous people and fights alongside them against the military machine out to destroy them) and I’m okay with never seeing them. But that wasn’t the case with reading The Lord of the Rings.

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Missy and I on that Christmas break – it may be the very night we saw The Fellowship of the Ring! Note the retro time stamp on the picture ;D. / Photo Credit – Um, Mom most likely

I really enjoyed The Fellowship of the Ring and I excitedly watched The Two Towers and The Return of the King, marathoning the other films before seeing the newest.  But I never felt the urge to read the books.   In college a good friend told me the first sixty pages or so of The Fellowship of the Ring just described rolling Hobbit hills and the action really doesn’t pick up until they get to the Prancing Pony.  That felt like…a lot when I already had – and enjoyed! – the films.  (I should note, in no way am I judging anyone who just loves The Lord of the Rings as movies.  Go you!  I see you, appreciate you, and validate you :).  Heck, I was you until…well, that’s what this story is all about.)

I grant this is an odd setup for a piece that’s part of Pages Unbound’s Tolkien Reading Event.  But the reading’s coming!  Trust me!  In fact, it’s in the very next paragraph.  See?  Your patience paid off!

I would find a reason to finally read J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings about seven or eight years later.  After undergrad I was working as a youth minister (take that everyone who questioned my religious studies degree! I was employed with that (and still am) before my social studies ed. certificate got me anywhere).  I had completed an epic six week Theology of Star Wars event with my youth group kids.  Each week we’d meet in the basement of the church, watch a Star Wars film (The Phantom Menace through Return of the Jedi (judge me if you want but the story works so much better – especially theologically – in that order)), have pizza, and deconstruct all the theology and mythology in the movies.  The kids LOVED it and our conversations ran past our meeting end time every week.  Once we were finished, they asked to do it again and I said I’d be happy to – I just needed another theologically rich film series.  Several kids suggested The Lord of the Rings!  It was a great idea…with just one problem.

I still hadn’t read the books.

And yes, it was a film discussion and not a book discussion, but could I – in good faith and with academic integrity – teach films based on books when I hadn’t read the books myself?

No, it turns out I couldn’t.  But I was intimidated!  It wasn’t the size of the books but their reputation.  Even writing as a part of the Tolkien Reading Event has me antsy.  Briana and Krysta are amazing people and I know I’m welcome here :).  And I know the readership they’ve cultivated on Pages Unbound is warm and welcoming, too!  But I judge myself based on my sense of my knowledge of the world and mystique of Tolkien.  It was jumping into that world more than those books that had me a li’l anxious when I decided to finally read The Lord of the Rings.

Does that make sense?  Maybe you can sympathize.  Or maybe it’s just a “me thing.”  My therapist once remarked she was surprised, given the way my anxiety disorder presents itself, that I didn’t become a therapist myself.  She said when someone’s anxiety is like mine, they often choose therapy as a profession to help redirect some of that anxiety around their own life into thinking about others’ lives.  But for me, I redirect that anxiety by diving into popular culture and deconstructing and analyzing everything.  The way I think, write, and teach about Marvel, Doctor Who, DC, or Star Wars refocuses my anxious parts and lets them obsess over something else.

But The Lord of the Rings has never been one of the narratives I do this with and thus I always feel like a stranger in a strange land when it comes to talking about The Lord of the Rings. And I definitely felt that way about teaching the films! However, for my youth group kiddos and in the service of great discussions, I opened The Fellowship of the Ring for the very first time, pen and notebook beside me, and was off.

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Me looking skeptically at the length of all three novels…except imagine me doing this FOURTEEN YEARS AGO before teaching through Covid had taken so much of the light from my eyes. I don’t have a picture from that very night. / Photo Credit – Kalie, best friend, photog, fellow blogger about literature and horror and all that good stuff

As will come as no surprise to anyone reading a Tolkien Reading Event piece, I really enjoyed it!  As will also come as no surprise to anyone reading a Tolkien Reading Event piece, I was blown away by how much more was in the books than in the films!  (See?  I’m doing it again, presuming everyone who will read this is far more knowledgeable with Tolkien than I am.  This is what gatekeeping yourself looks like.)  When it came time to discuss the films with my youth group kids, a lot of the conversations began with our talking about what we saw in the movies and then my adding some of the more detailed theology Tolkien did with the books.  We compared and contrasted.  We discussed the (potentially) different aims of Tolkien and Jackson.  We discussed the different narrative natures of novels and films.  I remained far less comfortable with The Lord of the Rings than I was with Star Wars but that’s part of what made it so memorable for me.  The kids who’d read Tolkien loved it!  And for those who didn’t, who knows?  Maybe I helped plant the seeds for their own reading adventure someday.

Though some kids were straight-up just there for movies and pizza XD.

To quote Obi-Wan Kenobi (hmm, should I be quoting Gandalf?), finally reading The Lord of the Rings was like, “taking [my] first step into a larger world.”  I felt the way I did when I first watched Doctor Who or Star Wars or first read Kurt Vonnegut or Arthur Conan Doyle.  Here was this HUGE piece of culture with legions of devoted fans which has influenced SO MANY THINGS I love and I was finally experiencing it for myself!  I had parts holding anxiety around this for sure.  And I had parts which doubted my “academic qualifications” only having read the books once.  But most of all I felt excited to finally know, to have finally read my way through Middle-earth myself.  Of course the worldbuilding was as complex and complete as I’d heard.  Of course the characters were more developed than in the films and had adventures I never knew of.  Of course there were people like Tom Bombadil and Goldberry, Old Man Willow, the Barrow Wight, or Glorfindel who I’d never met before.  All I’d heard about the books was true.  But now I had experienced it for myself.

For all my self-criticism and self-judgment around my knowledge of or comfort with Tolkien’s world, The Lord of the Rings has given me two uniquely wonderful memories.  I will never forget wading into all that anxiety in the service of learning something new and having a better conversation with my youth group kids.  Nor will I ever forget that snowy night when Missy and I, still kids ourselves, first entered the world of Middle-earth together.  For all the anxiety I put on myself about “knowing” or “understanding” or “belonging in” the world of The Lord of the Rings, at its heart it’s just a story.  Stories pull us in, bind us together, ignite our imaginations, and fill our hearts.  That’s why we think, talk, and write so much about the ones we love!  That selfsame love and all it produces can make jumping into a beloved universe a li’l intimidating.  But it isn’t a hindrance, not really.  It’s certainly not a reason to avoid a brilliant story. 

No matter how out of the loop you may feel, the story can still do it’s job, all your anxieties aside, if you’re open to it. It did for me! No matter how hard I tried to “judge” my relationship with Tolkien’s work, it pulled me in. The memory of reading The Lord of the Rings binds me to my time as a youth minister just as the memory of seeing The Fellowship of the Ring for the first time binds me to Missy. Opening that book for the first time, just like settling down into the theatre on that cold December night, left a mark on my imagination and filled my heart with beautiful memories. What a very special time for me, as I remember what a night.

About the Author

Michael J. Miller is the author of The Heart of a Superhero: Considering the Prophetic Dimension of Modern Superhero Comics, an upcoming volume in Claremont Press’ Religion and Comics Series. When not teaching courses on religion and popular culture, you can find him at My Comic Relief where he writes and rambles about comics, Doctor Who, books, movies, TV, and whatever else pops into his head. Should it be your thing, you can also follow him on Twitter @My_ComicRelief.

The Fall of Númenor by J. R. R. Tolkien, ed. by Brian Sibley

Fall of Numenor Book Cover


GoodreadsThe Fall of Númenor
Series: None
Age Category: Adult
Source: Library
Published: 2022


Collects previously published material to present the Fall of Númenor, as well as other events of the Second Age, such as the forging of the Rings of Power, in chronological order. Illustrated by Alan Lee.

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The Fall of Númenor contains no previously unpublished material, instead compiling excerpts from The Silmarillion, The Lord of the Rings, The History of Middle-Earth, The Nature of Middle-earth, and J. R. R. Tolkien’s letters in an attempt to present a (sort of) cohesive account of the Second Age of Middle-earth in one place. While it seems likely that this volume was commissioned mostly to profit off the release of The Rings of Power, the concept still has a certain appeal. Even many avid Tolkien fans have not read The Silmarillion or The History of Middle-earth, and those who have may appreciate having the material together in one volume. Brian Sibley’s editing admittedly does not seem to have the same easiness as Christopher Tolkien’s, but I suspect most readers will overlook that and enjoy the story–not to mention the beautiful illustrations by the iconic Alan Lee.

Having read most of the books that the material for The Fall of Númenor comes from, I was initially hesitant about this volume, and even the necessity of its existence. If it has come down to simply repackaging Tolkien’s previously published works, I worry that fans are being taken advantage of by an industry that simply wants to milk Tolkien for everything he is worth. Sibley’s editorial notes, after all, did not add anything to my reading experience or give me any greater insight into Tolkien’s world or writings.

And I frankly found the editing confusing–sometimes the smaller text indicates that Sibley is interjecting (mostly to summarize what readers had just read or were going to read–as if they cannot be trusted to comprehend it themselves), but sometimes the smaller text actually is J. R. R. Tolkien’s own words from letters he wrote, and at least once the small text indicates an editorial intervention Christopher Tolkien had apparently made in a different book. The writer is never clearly delineated, and I sometimes had difficulty figuring out if the editorial interjections were meant to be part of a cohesive story, were just for fun, or were an attempt to squeeze in every single mention of a particular object ever made in a text by Tolkien, so readers could be impressed by all the hard editorial work. Because, honestly, quoting Gandalf from The Lord of the Rings just never seemed to make sense in context, unless an editor was trying to be a completionist and catch every reference ever made.

What really made me appreciate the work is, not surprisingly, Tolkien’s writing. The Fall of Númenor brought me back to Middle-earth, and I relived all the wonder and drama and magic that I have come to know and love from Tolkien’s writings. Even though I was familiar with much of the content already, I found I did appreciate having it one place–despite knowing that the story would never be complete or cohesive, since Tolkien never finished it. There is still enough to immerse readers in a gripping tale, equally full of joy and sorrow.

I also loved the hardcover volume itself, with the illustrations by Alan Lee and the ribbon bookmark. Each chapter starts with a sketch, and there is even some blue text to make the font fancy. Collectors will likely not be disappointed by the format, even if there is no new material.

So, readers who are unfamiliar with the events of the Second Age, or who want it all in one easily accessible place will likely enjoy this volume! The History of Middle-earth is, after all, usually considered more suited to a scholarly audience than a general one, and even avid fans have not all read all the volumes. The Fall of Númenor, meanwhile, while not exactly for a general audience like The Hobbit is, still reads enough like a story that the average Tolkien fan can likely follow it and appreciate it.

(Side Note: Fans of The Rings of Power should be aware that the show did not have the rights to Tolkien’s writings aside from The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit. Consequently, most of the show’s plot points were created by the showrunners. The Fall of Númenor bears little resemblance to The Rings of Power.)

4 stars

I Regret to Say I Really Disliked Season 1 of The Rings of Power

I Didn't Like Season One of The Rings of Power

Though I had no initial plans to watch The Rings of Power, I ended up viewing season one with a friend. I went in with an open mind, knowing that most of the material would be created solely for the show and not based directly on Tolkien’s stories. Even so, I found myself uninterested in most of the characters, bored by the slow pacing, and confused by the gaps in logic and plot. That such a big show would have such poor writing truly baffled me. The main concern of the showrunners seemed to be to tease viewers with potential characters who might be Sauron in disguise–to the detriment of developed character and and story building. Below are my thoughts about various aspects of the show, in more detail.

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Poor Character Building

I had difficulty connecting with RoP from the start because I simply did not care for any of the characters. Because the show chooses to follow several different narratives (that will presumably converge, eventually), most of the characters, when first introduced do not receive enough screen time for viewers to understand who they are, what makes them tick, or why we should root for them. Bronwyn and Arondir, for instance, are reduced to a couple who awkwardly lock eyes from time to time. But I have no idea what Bronwyn’s station in the village is (some sort of healer who makes enough money to wear blue dye when no one else in the Southlands does?), how she met Arondir, or why she cares for him. I still remain uncertain how she ended up the leader of the village when she did not seem to have any standing among her people before the orcs arrived. I really didn’t care if she and Arondir lived or died, and my opinion did not change as the season progressed because viewers only ever receive a few snippets of background information on the two. Yawn. The Southlands portions of the show were some of the most boring.

The Harfoots, meanwhile, have their own character inconsistencies. The show sets them up to be rugged and loyal, chanting, “Nobody goes off trail! Nobody walks alone.” And then they read the book of the dead–all the Harfoots they left behind because they could not be bothered to lend a hand to their friends and neighbors. Why they all tear up at this is unclear. Are they weeping for their own cruelty? Apparently not because when Nori’s father Largo has trouble walking, the Harfoots leave not only him but also his entire family to perish in the wastelands, with never a second thought. But wait! That’s not good enough! The Brandyfoots are viewed as a danger to the group, so some decide that even allowing the group to attempt to migrate is folly. There are calls to take their cart wheels away so they are forced to be left behind and presumably starve or be eaten by wolves. All this makes it really weird for Largo to end the season with a rousing speech about how loyalty and support is what makes Harfoots Harfoots. They have no loyalty, Largo! They wanted to kill you!

And let us not forget the sudden change of heart the Harfoots need to have to welcome and appreciate the Stranger, before lovingly waving good-bye to him and Nori as they set off together. The whole season showed that the Harfoots only care about the Stranger when he helps them, and are willing to turn on him as soon as he makes a mistake. And then his being tangentially involved in Sadoc’s death and the near deaths of three other Harfoots is what makes all the Harfoots appreciate him in the end? I would think they would be chasing him away with sticks and cursing his name (if he had one). I am left wondering if the showrunners are trying to make me admire the Harfoots for their ruggedness, or feel horror and disgust at their callousness.

But while the Harfoots are a perplexing group, I truly did not know what to think about Galadriel. Her introduction shows the famed Commander of the North leading a ragtag band into the freezing cold past their strength and past their orders. She’s fully prepared for them all to die so she can get revenge. Why is she a leader, again? She has zero leadership qualities! Which is exemplified again when she visits Numenor and, instead of politely introducing herself to the court, she insults the whole country before demanding they form an army to follow her into Middle-earth. Please keep in mind that, at this point, they have no evidence that orcs are stirring in the Southlands and not the faintest idea of where Sauron is, so there’s no real tangible enemy she can even ask them to fight. But why all the rudeness? Galadriel may be hot-headed, but she is from a noble family, she is part of Gil-galad’s court, and she is supposed to be a leader of an army–and she has no concept of diplomacy. This makes her later speech about the need for humility all the more bizarre. She doesn’t have any. I kind of hated her, which is not, I think, what the showrunners were hoping for, since she was marketed as the main protagonist.

And why is the show so invested in suggesting that Galadriel is morally gray and could turn evil at any moment, with the right nudge? Is it for drama? Is it because modern audiences are assumed to find actually good characters unrealistic? What am I supposed to think of Galadriel when she spends seven episodes seeking Sauron and then, when she finds him, she lets him go to save her own reputation? I suspect I am supposed to find it all thrilling because one just never knows what Galadriel will do next! Maybe she will even have a little romance with Halbrand! (Ewwwww.) But having a character flail all around the place is not how one makes a character realistically three-dimensional.

Who were some of the only bearable characters? Elrond, Durin, and Disa–not only because their camaraderie is endearing, but because, tonally, they make the most sense. Their characters do not bounce all around, with the showrunners trying to make me like them at some points, and then having them “touch the darkness” randomly just to keep things interesting. If they were going for the vibe that, “Everyone in this show is morally gray and complex!” they failed. A mess is not complexity.

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Illogical Politics

I have no idea what is supposed to happening with the politics in this show, but I have a feeling I’m not supposed to care. I’m supposed to just go along with the spectacle. For example, how did Bronwyn become a leader for her village? Why did Adar just let Arondir go instead of coming up with a plan actually worthy of a villainous mastermind? Why did Numenor decide to go to war in Middle-earth when Galadriel cannot promise them they will even find an enemy there? Seriously, she finds a symbol that references (in the vaguest possible way) a place on a map and a whole island nation that allegedly hates Elves decides it is a good use of public funds to follow a random Elf, sail there, and see what is up? And who is Pharazon? I know who he is in the books, and I know the show finally indicated he is the Queen Regent’s cousin, but why is he running all over the island making speeches? What is his actual job? I don’t know, but he’s probably not good at it since he decided a bunch of strangers should be allowed to sit alone in the dying king’s bedroom and draw him. And is he the one who left all the military ships unguarded, to be blown up by a teenage discontent with no actual skill in espionage? Numenor needs to get it together.

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Cringe-Worthy Dialogue

This show has some of the worst dialogue I have ever heard. The awkward, meant-to-be-inspirational bits are bad enough, like the constant calls that, “The sea is always right!” (Worst catchphrase ever.) Or Finrod’s memorably sage advice that, “Rocks look downward.” (No, they don’t.) But then we have gems like, “Give me the meat, and give it to me raw!” (I don’t know. This sounds nasty?)

The writing also often fails to work tonally or in context. For instance, when Theo asks his mother to say what he used to tell her when he had bad dreams, she answers, “In the end, the shadow is but a small and passing thing. There is light and high beauty forever beyond its reach. Find the light and the shadow will not find you.” Apparently, the need to reference Sam’s words in LotR overcame the need for a mother to give a realistic answer like, “Shh. It’s okay. I’m here.” Which is what one might suppose a mother would say to a child with a nightmare!

And then there is the big reveal when Halbrand asks what drives Galadriel to seek Sauron when all others have given up. This was the moment when it was all supposed to come together, when viewers really started to understand Galadriel and her quest. The answer? “I cannot stop.” It almost felt like the writers didn’t know what to say, so they went with vagueness.

I can say definitely that the cringey dialogue is one of the worst aspects of the show. The writers so clearly thought they were channeling their inner Tolkien to write catchy snippets that would inspire and sound deep and, like many who reach for the heights, they fell unusually low.

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Awkward Pacing

Some have indicated to me that the show is a “slow burn” and it’s worth it to wait and have it all start to come together in the end. I find that strategy odd because I was so bored and uninterested by the first two episodes, I wanted to stop watching altogether. I only managed to get through the season because of pressure from a friend. I had zero interest in the characters, since there were too many of them to be developed adequately at the start and, when I tried to sum up the episodes, I was left with random assortments like, “Galadriel floats a boat. The Harfoots walk around. Elrond smashes a rock with an axe.” Good stuff.

The focus on the show seems to be not on plot or character development, but with teasing viewers about character identities and withholding information just for the sake of creating mystery. For instance, the driving force of season one seems to be the questions, “Who is the Stranger?” and, “Which character is Sauron?” and the creators play that up, with characters periodically accusing one another of being Sauron only to be told they are wrong. These puzzles take up more energy than actually developing the characters or the logic of the plotline.

Other random information is also withheld, seemingly just for the purpose of making viewers wonder about it so the showrunners can triumphantly pull out the answers later. This is presumably why we still have no clue about what happened to Theo’s father or why Galadriel randomly announces several episodes in that she has been married this entire time, but her husband is missing and presumed dead. Viewers know Celeborn isn’t dead. They’re just supposed to wonder when he’ll pop up.

Though it has its moments of suspense, Tolkien’s writing is very straightforward, and he never spends time trying to trick readers into thinking characters are not who they thought, or leaving out information just so people can speculate about it. Deliberately misleading viewers just to shock them is admittedly a valid strategy, especially in the age of the internet, when fans can immediately go online to try to puzzle out the mysteries together. It is, however, arguably not Tolkien-esque. Perhaps more importantly, however, the question, “Which character is really Sauron?” does not seem pressing enough to spend an entire season on, to the detriment of actual character and plot development.

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Uninspired Allusions to Peter Jackson’s Trilogy

I am not entirely sure what viewers are supposed to get from the numerous, indeed, overwhelming, numbers of allusions to Peter Jackson’s LotR. They do not often seem to be thematically important. For instance, why should I particularly think of Arwen riding to the Ford of Bruinen when Galadriel is riding a horse? Should the Numenorean charge recall Rohan’s charge? It would make more sense to tie them to Gondor, no? I found the allusions tiresome, as I do not want to play “spot the reference” when trying to immerse myself in a secondary world.

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Thematic Inconsistencies

Perhaps the most controversial aspect of the show, for fans of Tolkien at least, will undoubtedly be the decision to make the Elves’ immortal souls fade away unless they can bathe in the light of mithril (said, in the show, to contain the light of one of the Silmarils). This plot point has a lot of logical problems, of course. How did the light of a Silmaril imbue a bunch of random ore? How does that work, precisely? And how much mithril is needed to save everyone? (Answer: three rings’ worth will do because handwavy magic??) If the Elves need the light of a Silmaril, why can’t they just stand outside when Earendil passes by in the night sky? He has one in his ship, after all! And why is this even happening in the first place? How on earth did the trees of Lindon decide to die and indicate the “rise of evil” when, at that point, Sauron is apparently still stuck in the middle of the ocean and maybe/maybe not considering a simple life as a peasant blacksmith? Maybe the leaves should have decided to die at a more pressing time like, I don’t know, when Morgoth was taking over Middle-earth?

The real problem with this plot point is, of course, that no power that is not Eru (the One) should be able to kill an immortal soul. And the power of the Valar should not be able to save a soul. (The Silmarils contain the light of the Trees of Valinor, which were made by the Valar.) It simply is not consistent with Tolkien’s worldview to suggest that a soul can be made or unmade by anyone who is not the God of that world. Honestly, I found the suggestion to be shocking, considering how the showrunners were assuring everyone that they are huge Tolkien fans, and considering how many Tolkien scholars were gathered before the show’s release to Tweet out their approval of this new vision of Tolkien’s world.

I understand the show is almost entirely fan fiction since the rights to the material concerning the Second Ages are limited. I was not expecting the show to be the work of a Tolkien purist. But this whole idea seems rather wild, even for an adaptation. Even if we go with a vaguer explanation about the need to reclaim the light of Valinor to stop the Elves diminishing, I cannot see how implying that an external source can change one’s internal state would ever be thematically consistent with Tolkien’s vision of good and evil. Is it supposed to be like a reverse of the One Ring? As the One Ring tempts one with power until one is corrupted and chooses evil, the Silmaril light inspires one until they start following the Valar again? Maybe? But I think the show needs to develop this further since the entire Silmarillion is about how the light of the Silmarils tempted Sauron to invade Valinor and then lead the Elves to centuries of warfare as they attempted to reclaim the jewels, and turned on their own kin in order to possess them. Clearly just being in the presence of a Silmaril does not inspire one solely to goodness.

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General Inconsistencies

If we really want to get into the nitty gritty of the show, there was plenty to baffle and annoy me. One thing that really struck me was the inconsistency of how Elves experience time. Tolkien wrote that an Elf year is 144 sun years. The show references the idea that time passes differently for Elves when Durin chastises Elrond for not visiting in 20 years, even if that seems like nothing to an Elf. At other times, however, the show forgets this and has Arondir speaking of 70-some years in the Southlands as a long time, when really that would probably seem like six months or so to him. He also speaks of his youth 200 years ago like that’s a long time.

Then there are the strange moments that make no sense. Galadriel, Commander of the Army of the North, chases an enemy to retrieve a powerful object–only to give it away to a random Elf without looking at it or asking questions. The orcs release Arondir for no reason, after killing a bunch of Elves over a tree, as if the showrunners were not sure how to have him escape. Pharazon lets strangers sit in the king’s bedroom without supervision, even though previously no one was allowed to see the king at all for any reason. Miriel reverses her entire worldview in about ten seconds because some leaves fall off a tree–and the anti-Elf sentiment in Numenor that literally caused the removal of the previous ruler immediately vanishes as they all agree to go fight in a foreign land for people they have never seen and know nothing about. A sword is a key that turns a rock that breaks a dam that causes a volcano? (Sorry, I got lost there.) Internal logic in a story is important to me, but I saw very little of it here.

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A Few Things I Liked

As many have said, the CGI looks great. I also enjoyed Elrond, Durin, and Disa. Nori is a fun character, even if the Harfoots seem cruel. And I thought it was a fair choice to make the Elves seem more supernatural/superhuman with some of the fighting skills shown by Galadriel and Ardonir. I also liked the attempt to make the orcs seem more nuanced, with Adar’s insistence that they have souls and deserve a home. (I’m not sure where the show is going with this, though, since it’s hard for viewers to sympathize with orcs creating a home by killing everyone in the Southlands and literally forming Mordor. Expansion on this point is needed.) I also thought pretty much all the actors did an excellent job, even when the material given to them was poor.

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Rings of Power fails for me, not as a Tolkien adaptation, but as a show. I understood going in that the creators only had the rights to The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, and would be making up almost the entirety of the show. I was not expecting a purist adaptation of Tolkien. However, the lack of character backstories, the flip-flopping of characters from good to evil, the slow pacing, and the logical inconsistencies and baffling politics, would make me rate any show poorly–even if it had nothing to do with Tolkien. I did not enjoy watching Rings of Power, and the show sadly is unlikely to be part of a new beloved fandom for me.

Questions I Still Have about the Themes in “The Rings of Power” after the Season 1 Finale

Themes in Season 1 of Rings of Power

If you’ve been following my blog or my tweets, you’ll know I’ve been somewhat on the fence about The Rings of Power throughout season 1. It has some amazing moments . . . and then a lot of weird or confusing ones. I plan to do one final review of episode 8/the season as a whole, but in this post, I want to focus on what might be the longest contributing factor to my disappointment with the series: the confusion the writers seem to have over the themes they are trying to convey. Here are some inconsistencies I noticed and questions I still have (in no particular order).

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1. What is up with the flip flopping of Elendil’s faith?

Viewers agreed that the writers pretending Isildur died in episode 7 when anyone who knows anything about Tolkien must be aware he’s not dead was a bizarre choice. The explanation everyone came up with to make it make sense was that it’s for character development: it’s the catalyst that moves Elendil from being a staunch supporter of Galadriel/the Elves and aiding Middle-earth to questioning the role of Númenor and demanding his people just go home.

So it’s bizarre that in episode 8 that Elendil and Miriel have an entire conversation about how being one of the Faithful is hard and sometimes high prices must be paid to do the right thing. And Elendil recommits to his decision to aid Galadriel and Middle-earth. Whatever doubt he had seems to have lasted about two minutes of screen time. So what are his beliefs? And why are the writers still pretending Isildur is dead? (I hope, if nothing else, Isildur has something important he’s doing alone in Middle-earth in season 2!)

2. And is helping Galadriel the correct thing to do or not?

Elendil recommits to the idea that he made the moral decision when he chose to pull Galadriel out of the sea instead of leaving her there to die. Helping the Elves is the right thing. Following Galadriel is the right thing.

Yet the point of the entirety of season 1 boils down to: Galadriel has good intentions, but her decisions lead directly to Sauron’s coming back into power. If Elendil had let Galadriel (and Halbrand, obviously) die in the water, season 1 wouldn’t have happened. Even if Halbrand had survived or been reincarnated, but he hadn’t been with Galadriel, he might not have regained power, as he directly credits Galadriel with allowing him to believe in himself to pursue his ambitions and giving him access to specific resources, like the Elves of Eregion.

3. But Galadriel has already rejected evil and dominion over Middle-earth?

So this all comes to a head when Galadriel realizes Halbrand is Sauron and confronts him, and he gets into her head and proposes. (I’m so confused the writers doubled down on this Galadriel/Sauron romance, but here we are.) And because the Rings of Power writers love callbacks to Peter Jackson’s works, they write a whole scene mirroring Galadriel’s rejection of the One Ring in The Lord of the Rings. Sauron gives her the option of having dominion over Middle-earth, being terrible as the sea, etc. And she says no.

That’s right. Here, in the Second Age, Galadriel says no to Sauron and the exact type of power she would get from Sauron’s Ring in the Third Age. Her rejection of Sauron’s work has already happened. So why must she reject it again in the Third Age and say that then she has passed the test?

I suppose one could argue she doesn’t pass the test entirely because she still goes ahead with the forging of the three Elven Rings, which was largely Sauron’s idea, but . . . meh. I think the writers got too excited paralleling Peter Jackson and undermined their own message here.

4. Are the three Elven rings actually slightly evil???

And this leads me to the question of whether the Elven rings are actually evil, at least a little. Obviously, Sauron has a hand aiding Celebrimbor in the book, but Rings of Power suggests that the power used to create the rings might be a forbidden one. Adar, Sauron, and Celebrimbor talks about having a power over flesh and powers of the Unseen World. Those phrases by themselves don’t necessarily have to imply the power is evil, but the show certainly wants me to think they are, by associating them specifically with Sauron and then showing images of Elves who were tortured and mutilated in the pursuit of this power. I think the show went too far with suggesting that whatever was used to create the rings is itself bad; it’s not just that Sauron can corrupt the rings depending on whether or not he’s personally involved in their creation.

5. What exactly is causing the decay of the trees in Lindon?

This is still unclear to me. Gil-galad implies it’s some vague sense of evil in the world, especially as the decay is happening faster now that Mount Doom has been woken up. But, um, why? This is as wishy-washy as Peter Jackson’s version of Arwen fading as the One Ring becomes more powerful. It just makes no sense.

6. If the Elves don’t need mithril anymore, how are the Dwarves getting their redemption arc?

I, along with many viewers, was disappointed in episode 7 when it turned out that the plot line that Elves need mithril not to fade was not, in fact, a lie made up by Sauron but actually true.

But then I, and other fans, pivoted again and said, “Ok, well the mithril thing helps the characterization of the Dwarves because now they will mine for mithril to help the Elves, not out of pure greed, so they will be compassionate and not a one-dimensional race simply obsessed with treasure.”

This theory no longer works if the Elves don’t need mithril, so are the Dwarves just going back to digging out of ambition and greed?

7. What is Gandalf’s purpose in the Second Age?

I called early on that the Stranger is Gandalf, and I kind of like his character (plus the actor is great), but I have no idea what he is doing in this show. Gandalf is not mentioned as being involved in the matters of the Second Age at all in Tolkien’s work. So the writers are going to have to get clever to create a plot line where 1) Gandalf is actually important, since Nori keeps highlighting that he’s super important and it was clearly her destiny to help him achieve this awesome thing and 2) he’s not actually involved with the main plot of the show. I have no idea how this is going to work.

So what did you think?


The Silmarillion by J.R.R. Tolkien (A Review Upon Rereading)

The Silmarillion paperback


Goodreads: The Silmarillion
Series: pre-Lord of the Rings
Age Category: Adult
Source: Purchased
Published: 1977

Official Summary

The Silmarillion is an account of the Elder Days, of the First Age of Tolkien’s world. It is the ancient drama to which the characters in The Lord of the Rings look back, and in whose events some of them such as Elrond and Galadriel took part. The tales of The Silmarillion are set in an age when Morgoth, the first Dark Lord, dwelt in Middle-earth, and the High Elves made war upon him for the recovery of the Silmarils, the jewels containing the pure light of Valinor.


I read The Silmarillion once several years ago, but I decided that now was the perfect time for a reread, since Amazon’s The Rings of Power is being released. Amazon, of course, does not actually have the rights to anything in The Silmarillion, so none of the plot of the show is related to The Silmarillion (and most of the The Silmarillion is about the First Age, not the Second Age anyway). However, there have been references to events in The Silmarillion in the show, like references to the War of Wrath, Elrond’s family, the Valar, etc., so rereading it does help one appreciate the show at least a little. But enough about The Rings of Power. (You can read Krysta’s guide to the Second Age here.)

Reviewing The Silmarillion seems a daunting task to me. What can I say that hasn’t already been said? How can I adequately convey how amazing it is? It’s a fantasy classic, even if not as popularly read as The Lord of the Rings, so saying it’s “good” or “bad” seems a bit silly when people will read it no matter what I say. (For the record, I think it’s good.)

Even though it covers an extremely long time period for the First Age, it’s am immersive experience, and I loved seeing the beginning of Arda and then the trials of the Elves. The Elves, for the record, are much more chaotic here. While in The Lord of the Rings, Elves are nearly always associated with goodness, so much that evil things will not pass through areas where Elves once lived, they’re a mixed bag in The Silmarillion. They kill each other, they lust after the titular Silmarils, they betray one another, they ignore the plights of those who need help. They’re still delightfully Other, but they’re not a monolith of wisdom and virtue, and it is fascinating.

It’s also a bit darker than The Lord of the Rings in many ways. While I think the theme of hope still permeates the story, there are things one wouldn’t necessarily except to see in LotR, like Elves killing Elves and some (accidental) incest. It’s a different time in Middle-earth, and Tolkien (and editor Christopher Tolkien!) does an excellent job of making it feel so.

I know many readers find The Silmarillion confusing, but I don’t think it is. Some of the characters have annoyingly similar names, but I didn’t have an issue with that. I actually think I was most confused by the geography; next time I read, I might pull out my Atlas of Middle-earth. Or if anyone has any good guides about the geography, I’d love to know about them! (You can get a free guide to The Silmarillion in general from Tea with Tolkien.)

This is a five star read for me, and I recommend it to any Tolkien fan! I can’t wait to read it again sometime!

5 stars

My Thoughts on Episode 7 of “The Rings of Power”

After watching six episodes of The Rings of Power and being generally unmoved by what is clearly meant to be an epic and sweeping tale, I believe I am finally invested in this show and its characters. While the majority of viewers seem to have been amazed by episode 6 and felt episode 7 fell flat, I feel exactly the opposite: the focus on friendship and hope in this installment has truly drawn me in. I can at last say I actually like The Rings of Power.

This isn’t to say the episode was perfect. I am disappointed the thing about mithril being able to heal the Elves seems not to be a fabrication from Annatar, as many fans were hoping (or, there’s at least some truth to it, considering the mithril healed the diseased leaf from Lindon). This entire plot line is bizarre, from the implication there’s a Silmaril involved to the timeline that the Elves are going to fade by spring. The only interesting facet is that it opens the door to portray the Dwarves as selfless rather than greedy; they won’t dig for the mithril because they’re treasure-obsessed but because they want to help the Elves.

Implying Isildur is dead was also an interesting choice, since pretty much everyone must know he’s not. I assume this is for character development, such as moving Elendil from being in favor of aiding Middle-earth to regretting the mission. And I guess something interesting will happen to Isildur while he’s missing from the main narrative, but it was a little hard to feel *too* bad for Elendil since we all know Isildur is not dead!

However, the character development in general in this episode really helped win over my heart. I like Theo more. I can even believe he’d hug Arondir, when I’m not sure I would have been sold on that before. The Harfoots became more interesting, as well. I loved seeing some of them rally and realize perhaps they should help the Stranger, who tried so hard to help them even when things didn’t turn out the way he intended. Sadoc, of course, has some of the best lines. Elrond and Disa and Durin continue to be stars, and the scenes between Durin and his father (also Durin lol) were fabulous. Galadriel is still a bit of a miss for me because I don’t think she’s coming across as fearsome or awe-inspiring. (So it fell flat for me when Theo joked about being unable to imagine her dancing because I have no issue imagining that at all.)

Annoyingly, I am also beginning to see why people think Halbrand is Sauron, though I’ve been hoping the entire time he is not and that Sauron has actually been off screen.

So sign me up for episode 8 (and the rest of the seasons) because I’m finally truly excited!


Thoughts on Episode 3 of “The Rings of Power”


The third episode of The Rings of Power picks up some threads of mystery that watchers have been avidly discussing since the first two installments, and I was interested to see exactly how much was answered. There are still people convinced, for instance, that Halbrand is Sauron, even though the show says pretty plainly he’s some disinherited king of the Southlands, which was my theory. He’s clearly being set up as some sort of parallel to Aragorn, though I also like the theory he’ll end up as one of the Nazgul. Maybe he’ll take one of the Rings to try to save his people, but it backfires, etc. I don’t buy the running theories that Sauron is actually more than one person, so presumably Adar AND Halbrand? (Or Celebrimbor, according to some people, which I find delightfully hilarious.)

But beyond getting some answers, did I like this episode? The answer is a resounding yes! I missed some of the characters from the first two (like Elrond, Celebrimbor, Durin, and Disa), but I liked Arondir much more than I have previously. He shows more range, and you can see that he cared for the other Elves he had been working with in the Watchtower, which was not a sense I’d actually gotten before in the show. too bad they’re dead now. It would have been even more gut-wrenching if their relationship had been build up previously.

This episode also crushed my vision of the Harfoots, however. We see them chanting, “No one goes off path, and nobody walks alone.” But apparently this is not a promise they will stick by one another. It’s a threat that they won’t! If you’re slow, you get left behind. Cue a ceremony remembering all those left behind i past migrations, only some for legitimate reasons, and then the decision to basically ditch the Brandyfoots rather than have someone help pull the cart. It’s dark.

Numenor was definitely a highlight of the show. It’s gorgeous. We get to meat Elendil and Isildur and see hints of what’s to come. Miriel is aggravating but seems to know more than she is letting on. I’m not sure I love that Galadriel is here. So much of her plot seems to be the showrunners trying to make other stuff happen that she’s just the vehicle for. Here it’s getting more information about Sauron and Halbrand from the Hall of Lore. I hope her plot gets better as the show goes on.

I’ve said that episode 3 would be the real test of how much I liked the show and whether I’d be willing to pay for a month of Prime to finish the season, and I think the answer is yes. I don’t love it as much as the movies, and there are choices I certainly find odd, but it’s growing on me and I want to see what happens next.