Despite its status as a prequel, Amazon’s The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power still has plenty to teach us about the history of Middle-earth, or at least its version of that history. While the show’s latest episode covers many different bases, perhaps its most interesting has to do with the history of mithril, a legendary elf, and the Misty Mountains themselves.
[Ed. note: This post contains spoilers for The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power episode 5, “Partings.”]
Episode 5’s glimpse into Middle-earth’s past came during this episode’s conversation between High King Gil-Galad and Elrond. When Elrond refused to reveal information he learned from Durin — thanks to his oath last episode — Gil-Galad asked him to recount The Song of the Roots of Hithaeglir.
Elrond describes the poem as depicting a fight between a pure-hearted elf warrior and a balrog of Moria over a beautiful tree at the top of the Misty Mountains. According to the legend the tree was thought to contain one of the lost Silmarils, a set of gems over which the war with Morgoth was fought.
In an attempt to keep the tree pure, the elf poured his light into it, while the balrog attempted to corrupt it with its own evil and darkness. In the midst of this fight, the tree was struck by lightning, and its essence seeped deep into the Misty Mountains below and formed mithril.
Of course, until Durin and his people discovered the mythical stone below their halls in Khazad-dûm, no one knew for sure that mithril was real, but it seems Gil-Galad had always suspected it, and was holding out hope that it could be mined.
But why is mithril so important to the Elves? Because, apparently, of another tree. After explaining the origins of mithril, Gil-Galad shows Elrond over to another tree, one that’s slowly succumbing to corruption. This, Gil-Galad says, is an outer manifestation of an inner reality: The elves remaining in Middle-earth are dwindling in power, losing their influence over the world around them. Only infusing the remaining elves with mithril — which contains the power of the Silmarils, which derives from the light of the ancient trees that once grew in Gil-Galad’s homeland — can the elves be whole again.
Amidst all of this lore, it’s probably worth noting that almost all of this is an invention of the show rather than of Tolkien’s original work. Tolkien never provided a concrete origin story for mithril, and it was discovered in mines other than Moria, such as those in Númenor as well. With all these changes, it’s hard to say how mithril may eventually get used in the series, but we do know that it has an important part to play as Rings of Power continues, especially once the rings themselves appear.