Rings of Power expands on a classic Tolkien theme in exciting new ways
Mithril is a precious resource in Tolkien’s saga, and not just because it’s priceless.
There’s something about the way it catches the light.
The latest episode of The Rings of Power, “The Great Wave,” shows the dwarves beginning to mine the precious, almost magical silver steel known as mithril.
Like many relics in Tolkien’s writings, mithril has significance beyond world-building. And it’s sure to come into play throughout The Rings of Power, with the friendship between Elrond (Robert Aramayo) and Prince Durin IV (Owain Arthur) at stake. With mithril now in play, their story is bound to explore themes like trust, honor, and the lengths bonds can be tested before they finally crack.
The Rings of Power Episode 4 explores the difficulty of creating trust between distrustful people. There’s Galadriel (Morfydd Clark) in Númenor having uneasy meetings with Queen Míriel (Cynthia Addai-Robinson), and there’s Elrond being made aware of Durin’s secrecy — while Elrond may have secrets of his own.
At the start of the series, Elrond and Durin just barely make amends, with Durin resentful that his friend let 20 years slip without so much as a hello. Immortal elves view 20 years as the blink of an eye, but for other beings, it’s a huge chunk of their lifetime.
Rings of Power Episode 2, “Adrift,” established the elves’ need to build a forge in Eregion. Elrond himself chose to go to the dwarf kingdom of Khazad-dûm, hoping the dwarves could lend their labor and expertise. Thinking he’d be welcome, Elrond instead found himself a stranger, with Prince Durin IV suspicious that Elrond is only there because he wants something.
As Rings of Power Episode 3, “The Great Wave,” reveals, Durin suspected Elrond wanted their newly-discovered resource, mithril. But Elrond didn’t know the dwarves were mining something so highly-prized.
“I care nothing for whatever is in that chamber,” Elrond tells Durin after he catches Elrond in the tunnel connecting to the mithril mines. “I do care for you. For this friendship. And secrets do not become it.”
Elrond and Durin continue to re-forge their bonds, as Elrond vows to never reveal that the dwarves sit upon the most precious resource in Middle-earth. But dwarves and elves are destined to be at odds with each other, and it’s perhaps through the inevitable revealing of mithril — among other events — that dwarves and elves will fail to get along in the Third Age.
This mithril won’t be a secret forever. We know that a certain couple of hobbits will don mithril armor centuries in the future. But for now, it’s not hard to speculate that Elrond and Durin may soon fight over mithril despite their best intentions. Perhaps Elrond will be forced to spill the secret to Celebrimbor, or maybe the mithril nugget Durin gives to Elrond will be discovered by accident.
All of these could lead to Durin feeling that his trust in Elrond was foolishly misplaced, even if Elrond didn’t mean it. Such heartbreak is a tragedy befitting Tolkien’s style of storytelling.
Why is Mithril so important?
Basically the dwarven version of Vibranium, mithril has all the best qualities of several metals and none of their drawbacks. It was described in The Hobbit as “wrought of pure silver to the power and strength of triple steel.” In The Fellowship of the Ring, Gandalf says it “could be beaten like copper, and polished like glass.”
But it’s rare, and found only in the deepest recesses of Moria. It just so happens that a gigantic monster, a Balrog, resides uncomfortably close to the mithril mines. It’s well-known in Tolkien lore that the Dwarves will awaken it, and the fact that it’s dubbed Durin’s Bane tells you what the creature will mean for Prince Durin IV.
Mithril is a microcosm of Tolkien’s predominant themes of greed and power, often explored through the metaphor of metallurgy. As a veteran, Tolkien saw how mankind could ravage the natural world, and his celebrated saga is replete with conservationist themes.
It’s no mistake that Sauron’s power, and his pursuit for more of it, conjure up images of industry and deforestation. But Tolkien is aware that power is only what you make of it. The dwarves themselves are similarly inclined towards industry and mining. It’s kind of their whole deal. They just (usually) aren’t greedy about it.
Still, it’s through mithril that the Dwarves flirt with danger. As Tolkien scholar Charles A. Huttar noted in the 1975 book A Tolkien Compass, mithril epitomizes avarice for the Dwarves, in which “beauty and terror [were] side by side” and evil is found “inherent in the mineral treasures hidden in the womb of Earth.” “Mithril is both the greatest of treasures and a deadly bane,” Huttar wrote.
Teasers for The Rings of Power have confirmed we’ll see a Balrog, possibly Durin’s Bane. But monsters aren’t the only thing mithril can unleash. With Elrond and Durin still trying to rebuild their friendship, Tolkien’s themes involving power and trust — all contained in the alluring wonders of mithril — will test these two characters, and reveal exactly what they prize the most.
Rings of Power airs Fridays on Amazon Prime Video.