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The One Ring Forums: Tolkien Topics: Middle-earth TV Series Discussion:
Themes of the Second Age

Hasuwandil
Bree

Jul 9, 5:56pm

Post #1 of 14 (763 views)
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Themes of the Second Age Can't Post

I think the series would be missing something without some meditation on themes. Although he has been maligned for turning LOTR into a bunch of action movies for teenage boys, it can reasonably be argued that Peter Jackson (and company) kept a great deal of Tolkien's meditations intact. To me the overriding theme of Peter Jackson's LOTR seems to be hope. There may be others, of course. What about Amazon's upcoming series? What themes should appear in it?

First, an aside. The First Emperor of the Qin Dynasty is famous for uniting various kingdoms of China after a long period of division and wars. After he had established an ordered society, he became very concerned about his mortality, and tried various means to extend his life. He is said to have died from ingesting mercury pills as an elixir of immortality. Also, it has been customary in many parts of the world to greet hereditary rulers with wishes of long life. Longing for immortality seems to be a common preoccupation, especially of the powerful. Between the Elves, the Men of Westernesse, the lesser Men, and the life-preserving powers of the Rings, I think that immortality vs. mortality is likely to be one of the major themes of the series.

Somewhat related, change and loss on the one hand, and stagnation vs. preservation vs. restoration on the other hand are also themes I see as being important. The Elves miss the First Age, and would like to restore Middle-earth to that glory. Sauron has his own plans for Middle-earth, which for a time seem to be consistent with those of the Elves of Eregion.

And, of course, the corrupting influence of power is another important theme. It's an important theme of LOTR too, but in LOTR we see people who either have already been corrupted (Gollum, Saruman, Sauron, the Ringwraiths), or who are just beginning to be corrupted, and only end up becoming corrupted partway (Boromir, Frodo, Bilbo). The series could explore this theme more fully.

Finally, the relations between the various peoples of Middle-earth could be a fruitful source of material. In particular, I would be interested to see the friendship between the Elves of Eregion and the Dwarves of Moria, the friendship/envy between the Men of Westernesse and the Elves, and the causes of mistrust between the Men of Westernesse and other Men of Middle-earth.


CuriousG
Half-elven


Jul 9, 8:20pm

Post #2 of 14 (712 views)
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You are a tough act to follow [In reply to] Can't Post

I agree with all your themes as both important to Tolkien and relevant to modern viewers. I think the Second Age in particular is marked by that "embalming" aspect Tolkien spoke of, the Elves trying to preserve/recreate the First Age and their life in Valinor, and the Dunedain seeking immortality because they felt they had a right to it via descent from Elros (and most humans want to be immortal at some point, so it's not like you need to feel entitled to still want it).

How about the environment? One of the bad things the Numenoreans did while they were still good was cut down a lot of trees in Eriador to construct ships and buildings, while Sauron was no friend to the environment either. I think that struggle would be important, especially because the Elves would be objecting that things were going too far.

Maybe to enlarge on your point about the corruption of power, I'd say that Tolkien seemed to think there was good dominion and bad dominion, with the first being civilized and lawful and enlightened, and the latter as tyranny. Numenor started with the first and slid down into the cesspool of the latter. Depicting that as an overarching theme would be important.


Chen G.
Rohan

Jul 9, 8:31pm

Post #3 of 14 (703 views)
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Commentary on Imperialism [In reply to] Can't Post


In Reply To
To me the overriding theme of Peter Jackson's LOTR seems to be hope. There may be others, of course. What about Amazon's upcoming series? What themes should appear in it?


Other themes include friendship, family (the only shot in which a conjugal family is shown is the very last shot of the series), dichotomy of good and evil, free will, loyalty, corruption, greed, isolationism, etcetra.

I think the theme of commentary on imperialism is a good idea to focus on for dealing with the events of the second age. Not only because its pertinent to the material, but also because its akin to themes of commentary on isolationism which are present in The Hobbit and The Two Towers.


Hasuwandil
Bree

Jul 9, 10:13pm

Post #4 of 14 (671 views)
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First Contact & Aftermath [In reply to] Can't Post

That's a good point. It seems that in the later Third Age, the various peoples not under Sauron's sway tended to lean too far in the direction of isolationism, whereas Númenor, from the time of Tar-Anarion onwards throughout the Second Age, started leaning in the direction of colonialism and imperialism.

I posted this in another thread, but as it may soon be pushed to the second page, I'd like to post it here as well:

How does someone with seemingly good intentions become corrupted? How does a relatively free society turn to tyranny? What does one do when one chooses a particular path, and most of the rest of society chooses an opposing path? When fighting evil, is it better to fight nobly or fight to win?

These are questions that I think are highly applicable to the Second Age, as well as to Tolkien's lifetime, if not today. Without going into too much detail, Tolkien's life saw the evolution of warfare from the Hague Conventions to the use of poison gas in World War I, to the wholesale bombing of civilian populations by both Axis and Allied nations in World War II.


CuriousG
Half-elven


Jul 10, 3:05pm

Post #5 of 14 (562 views)
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War crimes and mechanization [In reply to] Can't Post

Your post reminded me of Letter 96 which I just read, written in 1945 as the Russians neared Berlin:

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Well the first War of the Machines seems to be drawing to its final inconclusive chapter – leaving, alas, everyone the poorer, many bereaved or maimed and millions dead, and only one thing triumphant: the Machines. As the servants of the Machines are becoming a privileged class, the Machines are going to be enormously more powerful. What’s their next move?


I think Jackson made a good point of that in showing the degradation of Isengard from happy parkland to dour, industrial inferno.


fantasywind
The Shire

Jul 10, 3:22pm

Post #6 of 14 (554 views)
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Second Age by Tolkien [In reply to] Can't Post


In Reply To
And, of course, the corrupting influence of power is another important theme. It's an important theme of LOTR too, but in LOTR we see people who either have already been corrupted (Gollum, Saruman, Sauron, the Ringwraiths), or who are just beginning to be corrupted, and only end up becoming corrupted partway (Boromir, Frodo, Bilbo). The series could explore this theme more fully.

Finally, the relations between the various peoples of Middle-earth could be a fruitful source of material. In particular, I would be interested to see the friendship between the Elves of Eregion and the Dwarves of Moria, the friendship/envy between the Men of Westernesse and the Elves, and the causes of mistrust between the Men of Westernesse and other Men of Middle-earth.


Not to search far Tolkien own letters talk about the main themes of the Second Age. This is what he has to say in his letter 131 to Milton Waldman:


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"The three main themes (of the Second Age) are thus The Delaying Elves that lingered in Middle-earth; Sauron's growth to a new Dark Lord, master and god of Men; and Numenor-Atlantis. They are dealt with annalistically, and in two Tales or Accounts, The Rings of Power and the Downfall of Númenor. Both are the essential background to The Hobbit and its sequel...

There is Sauron. In the Silmarillion and Tales of the First Age Sauron was a being of Valinor perverted to the service of the Enemy and becoming his chief captain and servant. He repents in fear when the First Enemy is utterly defeated, but in the end does not do as was commanded, return to the judgement of the gods. He lingers in Middle-earth. Very slowly, beginning with fair motives: the reorganising and rehabilitation of the ruin of Middle-earth, 'neglected by the gods', he becomes a reincarnation of Evil, and a thing lusting for Complete Power – and so consumed ever more fiercely with hate (especially of gods and Elves).

Thus, as the Second Age draws on, we have a great Kingdom and evil theocracy (for Sauron is also the god of his slaves) growing up in Middle-earth. In the West lie the precarious refuges of the Elves, while Men in those parts remain more or less uncorrupted if ignorant...

Meanwhile Númenor has grown in wealth, wisdom, and glory, under its line of great kings of long life, directly descended from Elros, Earendil's son, brother of Elrond... In the first stage, being men of peace, their courage is devoted to sea-voyages....Mostly they come to the west-shores of Middle-earth, where they aid the Elves and Men against Sauron, and incur his undying hatred. In those days they would come amongst Wild Men as almost divine benefactors, bringing gifts and knowledge, and passing away again – leaving many legends behind of kings and gods out of the sunset.

In the second stage, the days of Pride and Glory and grudging of the Ban, they begin to seek wealth rather than bliss. The desire to escape death produced a cult of the dead, and they lavished wealth on tombs and memorials.They now made settlements on the west-shores, but these became rather strongholds and 'factories' of lords seeking wealth, and the Númenóreans became tax-gatherers carrying off over the sea evermore and more goods in their great ships. The Númenóreans began the forging of arms and engines...

A new religion, and worship of the Dark, with its temple under Sauron arises. The Faithful are persecuted and sacrificed. The Númenóreans carry their evil also to Middle-earth and there become cruel and wicked lords of necromancy, slaying and tormenting men; and the old legends are overlaid with dark tales of horror. This does not happen, however, in the North West; for thither, because of the Elves, only the Faithful who remain Elf-friends will come...

The Second Age ends with the Last Alliance (of Elves and Men), and the great siege of Mordor. It ends with the overthrow of Sauron and destruction of the second visible incarnation of evil"​


As he himself wrote, the tales of previous ages, those 'older legends' are tragic ones:


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Nearly all are grim and tragic: a long account of the disasters that destroyed the beauty of the Ancient World, from the darkening of Valinor to the Downfall of Númenor and the flight of Elendil. And there are no hobbits. Nor does Gandalf appear.


The Second Age is also often called Dark Years, associated with time of Sauron's domination, it's a troubling time of terror and barbarism on the continent mainland, while the cultures of Elves, Dwarves and Numenoreans thrive and manage to build sophisticated civilization (and those Men who remain uncorrupted are in a more or less as Tolkien called "simple "'Homeric' state of patriarchal and tribal life").

We know that Sauron's influence on the world in that time and age is enormous:


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Sauron became thus almost supreme in Middle-earth. The Elves held out in secret places (not yet revealed). The last Elf-Kingdom of Gilgalad is maintained precariously on the extreme westshores, where are the havens of the Ships. Elrond the Half-elven, son of Earendil, maintains a kind of enchanted sanctuary at Imladris (in English Rivendell) on the extreme eastern margin of the western lands.* But Sauron dominates all the multiplying hordes of Men that have had no contact with the Elves and so indirectly with the true and Unfallen Valar and gods. He rules a growing empire from the great dark tower of Barad-dûr in Mordor, near to the Mountain of Fire, wielding the One Ring.


Tale of Downfall of Numenor and generally stories of Second Age are a cautionary one, about pride, inevitable corruption, tale of tyranny arising from desire to control, and how desire for immortality by mortals nearly always ends bad. How things are changing and going against natural order is futile (it's one of those things, the decline of all things that caused what Tolkien also called 'second fall' for the Elves).


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"But the elves are not wholly good or in the right. Not so much because they had flirted with Sauron, as because with or without his assistance they were 'embalmers.' They wanted to have their cake and eat it: to live in the mortal historical Middle-earth because they had become (and perhaps because they had the advantages of a superior caste), and so tried to stop its change and history, stop its growth, keep it as a pleasurance, even largely a desert, where they could be 'artists' - and they were overburdened with sadness and nostalgic regret."
...
"There was nothing wrong essentially in their lingering against counsel, still sadly with the mortal lands of their old heroic deeds. But they wanted to have their cake without eating it. They wanted the peace and bliss and perfect memory of 'The West', and yet to remain on the ordinary earth where their prestige as the highest people, above wild Elves, dwarves, and Men, was greater than at the bottom of the hierarchy of Valinor. They thus became obsessed with 'fading', the mode in which the changes of time (the law of the world under the sun) was perceived by them."



Hasuwandil
Bree

Jul 11, 11:31pm

Post #7 of 14 (450 views)
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The Dark Years [In reply to] Can't Post

Thank you for this comprehensive answer, fantasywind. I have seen the term The Dark Years used in various online Tolkien encyclopedias, but until recently I haven't tried to pin down its meaning. According to Wikipedia, the Dark Years are from ca. 1693 to 3441 of the Second Age, or in other words, from the beginning of the War of the Elves and Sauron (when Sauron invaded Eregion to take possession of the Rings of Power) to the end of the War of the Last Alliance (when Sauron was defeated and the One Ring taken from him by Isildur). That's actually slightly less than half of the Second Age, but no doubt most of the Amazon series will cover this time period, unless some seasons go into the Third Age. Of course, some events will probably take place before the Dark Years, including perhaps the forging of the Rings, Sauron gathering his forces, and the initial voyages of the Númenóreans back to Middle-earth. I would like to see some time spent on these, as well as the Dwarves in Khazad-dûm, before the War of the Elves and Sauron. However, peace does not make for epic drama, and there needs to be some kind of dramatic hook to draw viewers in from the beginning. I'm thinking maybe showing Sauron's intrigues in the East might provide that.


Otaku-sempai
Immortal


Jul 12, 1:21am

Post #8 of 14 (437 views)
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The Start of the Dark Years [In reply to] Can't Post

At least some sources seem to place the beginning of the Dark Years even earlier than S.A. 1693, circa the year 1000. Robert Foster's The Complete Guide to Middle-earth describes the period as "The years of Sauron's great and almost undisputed dominion of Middle-earth, during which many peoples were enslaved or corrupted" beginning around S.A. 1000 when Sauron settled in Mordor. If Amazon's show is going to spend any significant time on the forging of the Great Rings then it will surely start before the beginning of the War of the Elves and Sauron.

"Change is inevitable. Growth is optional." - DRWolf (after John C. Maxwell)


cats16
Valinor


Jul 12, 3:42am

Post #9 of 14 (424 views)
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This would be great voiceover narration for the Matrix movies. // [In reply to] Can't Post

Sly

Join us every weekend in the Hobbit movie forum for this week's CHOW (Chapter of the Week) discussion!




fantasywind
The Shire

Jul 14, 10:32am

Post #10 of 14 (372 views)
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Second Age terminology [In reply to] Can't Post

It seems that it's more or less loosely defined period. Other terms were also used to describe it, including Black Years, mentioned by Gandalf:


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‘Ah!’ said Gandalf. ‘That is a very long story. The beginnings lie back in the Black Years, which only the lore-masters now remember. If I were to tell you all that tale, we should still be sitting here when Spring had passed into Winter.


Aragorn also uses term Accursed Years, which seems to indicate period near the end of Second Age (or earlier) in regards to Oathbreakers (who were cursed by Isildur sometime before Last Alliance and defeat of Sauron in that war).


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“For that is not my errand!” he cried, turning back and speaking to the whispering darkness behind. “Keep your hoards and your secrets hidden in the Accursed Years! Speed only we ask. Let us pass, and then come! I summon you to the Stone of Erech!”
...
"The Men of Darkness built temples, some of great size, usually surrounded by dark trees, often in caverns (natural or delved) in secret valleys of mountain-regions; such as the dreadful halls and passages under the Haunted Mountain beyond the Dark Door (Gate of the Dead) in Dunharrow. The special horror of the closed door before which the skeleton of Baldor was found was probably due to the fact that the door was the entrance to an evil temple hall to which Baldor had come, probably without opposition up to that point. But the door was shut in his face, and enemies that had followed him silently came up and broke his legs and left him to die in the darkness, unable to find any way out."
...
"‘But the oath that they broke was to fight against Sauron, and they must fight therefore, if they are to fulfil it. For at Erech there stands yet a black stone that was brought, it was said, from Númenor by Isildur; and it was set upon a hill, and upon it the King of the Mountains swore allegiance to him in the beginning of the realm of Gondor. But when Sauron returned and grew in might again, Isildur summoned the Men of the Mountains to fulfil their oath, and they would not: for they had worshipped Sauron in the Dark Years."


In The Silmarillion, Of The Rings of Power and the Third Age we have this fragment:


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Now Sauron's lust and pride increased, until he knew no bounds, and he determined to make himself master of all things in Middle-earth, and to destroy the Elves, and to compass, if he might, the downfall of Númenor. He brooked no freedom nor any rivalry, and he named himself Lord of the Earth. A mask he still could wear so that if he wished he might deceive the eyes of Men, seeming to them wise and fair. But he ruled rather by force and fear, if they might avail; and those who perceived his shadow spreading over the world called him the Dark Lord and named him the Enemy; and he gathered again under his government all the evil things of the days of Morgoth that remained on earth or beneath it, and the Orcs were at his command and multiplied like flies. Thus the Black Years began, which the Elves call the Days of Flight. In that time many of the Elves of Middle-earth fled to Lindon and thence over the seas never to return; and many were destroyed by Sauron and his servants. But in Lindon Gil-galad still maintained his power, and Sauron dared not as yet to pass the Mountains of Ered Luin nor to assail the Havens; and Gil-galad was aided by the Númenóreans. Elsewhere Sauron reigned, and those who would be free took refuge in the fastnesses of wood and mountain, and ever fear pursued them. In the east and south well nigh all Men were under his dominion, and they grew strong in those days and built many towns and walls of stone, and they were numerous and fierce in war and aimed with iron. To them Sauron was both king and god; and they feared him exceedingly, for he surrounded his abode with fire.



Eruonen
Valinor


Mon, 4:59am

Post #11 of 14 (335 views)
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All of this imagery has the potential makings of very original and intense material for adaptation... [In reply to] Can't Post

Sauron as exceptionally fair in appearance will have to be balanced with some malice in the eyes. The character of Lucious Malfoy comes to mind - https://pbs.twimg.com/.../D71MhWiXoAIC4AP.jpg


Althoun
Rivendell

Mon, 3:24pm

Post #12 of 14 (249 views)
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Flawed Idealism...the rings of power as a utopian solution to Arda's marring [In reply to] Can't Post

In addition to the themes already noted by others, I would expect to see the TV series explore the dangers of naive ideals and utopian solutions.

Tolkien has explained that Sauron's "frightful evil arose from a good root, the desire to benefit the world and others – speedily and according to the benefactor’s own plans" (Tolkien, Letter to Milton Waldman in 1951).

The Elves become his (unwitting) accomplices, due to the fact that his arguments strike a chord with their deepest yearnings: namely, the perception (partly justified) that the Valar were neglecting Middle-Earth and Annatar's own compelling, radical vision of a perfected world no longer subject to decay (as in Aman), where the exiled Eldar could escape their own nature (bound to fade as the natural order ages).

There's a part about this in The Silmarillion which I particularly love:


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And Sauron said to them [the Elves]: "Alas, for the weakness of the great! For a mighty king is Gil-galad, and wise in all lore is Master Elrond, and yet they will not aid me in my labours. Can it be that they do not desire to see other lands become as blissful as their own?

But wherefore should Middle-earth remain for ever desolate and dark, whereas the Elves could make it as fair as Eressëa, nay even as Valinor? And since you have not returned thither, as you might, I perceive that you love this Middle-earth, as do I. Is it not then our task to labour together for its enrichment, and for the raising of all the Elven kindreds that wander here untaught to the height of that power and knowledge which those have who are beyond the Sea?'


(p.138)



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“You know, those who are motivated by greed, lust for power, or wounded pride are half-way tolerable, at least they feel pangs of conscience sometimes. But there is nothing more fearsome than a bright-eyed enthusiast who has decided to benefit mankind; such a one can drown the world in blood without hesitation".

- Yeskov, Kirill, The Last Ringbearer p.21


Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron's cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.”

- C. S. Lewis



(This post was edited by Althoun on Mon, 3:37pm)


Hasuwandil
Bree

Mon, 3:45pm

Post #13 of 14 (234 views)
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Year of Dread [In reply to] Can't Post

I believe the term "Dark Years" was used by the Elves. I don't know that any of Sauron's willing or unwilling subjects in the East and South used the term. I imagine that the Elves of the West would have used the term to refer to Sauron's negative impact on them, which didn't really begin in earnest until 1693.

Anyway, the Dark/Black/Accursed Years/Days may be loosely defined, but I recently came across another term that is strictly defined: the Year of Dread, which is the year Sauron both forged the One Ring and completed Barad-dûr, ca. S.A. 1600. It also may be the year Glorfindel and the Blue Wizards were sent to Middle-earth. I think this could also be taken as the beginning of the Dark Years, since it was at this time that the Elves first became aware of Sauron's treachery and dark designs.

Back on topic: although Tolkien doesn't go into a lot of detail on it, it seems to me that exploration and discovery, as well as recovery and rebuilding, were major themes of the Second Age, at least the first half thereof. In the story of Aldarion we are told that he went on many voyages, each taking from a couple of years to fourteen years, in one case, but we are only told infrequently about what he did on his journeys. The point of all the voyages seems to be more on their impact on Aldarion's family (especially his father and wife) back home.

Hêlâ Aurwandil, angilô berhtost,
oƀar Middangard mannum gisandid!


Hasuwandil
Bree

Mon, 4:01pm

Post #14 of 14 (226 views)
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Means to an End [In reply to] Can't Post

Good point, Althoun. We can go back and forth on Sauron's motives. I like to think that he had some kind of self-justification, at least early in the Second Age. However, he also had to give the Elves of Eregion, who we do not generally regard as evil, a reason to work with him.

Hêlâ Aurwandil, angilô berhtost,
oƀar Middangard mannum gisandid!

 
 

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