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Despite its status as a prequel, Amazon’s The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power still has a lot to teach us about the history of Middle-earth, or at least the version of that history. While the latest episode of the show covers many different bases, perhaps the 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 heard from Durin – thanks to his last episode oath – Gil-Galad asked him to tell The song of the roots of Hithaeglir.
Elrond describes the poem as a battle between a sincere elf warrior and a balrog of Moria over a beautiful tree at the top of the Misty Mountains. Legend has it that the tree would contain one of the lost Silmarils, a set of gems over which the war with Morgoth was fought.
In an effort to keep the tree pure, the elf poured its light into it, while the balrog tried to corrupt it with its own evil and darkness. In the midst of this battle, the tree was struck by lightning, and its essence seeped deep into the Misty Mountains below, forming mithril.
Of course, until Durin and his people discovered the mythical stone under their halls in Khazad-dûm, no one knew for sure that Mithril was real, but it seems Gil-Galad always suspected it and hoped it could be mined.
But why is mithril so important to the Elves? Because, apparently, from another tree. After explaining the origins of mithril, Gil-Galad shows Elrond to another tree, one that is slowly succumbing to corruption. This, Gil-Galad says, is an outward manifestation of an inner reality: The elves left behind in Middle-earth are waning in power and losing influence over the world around them. Only by supplying the remaining elves with mithril – which contains the power of the Silmarils, which springs from the light of the ancient trees that once grew in Gil-Galad’s homeland – can the elves be whole again.
Amid all this lore, it’s probably worth noting that almost all of this is an invention of the show rather than Tolkien’s original work. Tolkien never gave a concrete origin story for mithril, and it was discovered in mines other than Moria, such as the one at Númenor. With all these changes, it’s hard to say how Mithril will eventually get used to the series, but we do know it plays an important role as Rings of Power continues, especially if the rings themselves appear.