The recent Rings of Power episode gave us a glimpse of a Palantiri or The Seeing Stones of Adar. Previously, they were also featured or mentioned in The Lord of the Rings movie trilogy. So what are they? What is their story ? And what is their importance in the huge world of JRR Tolkien? Let’s dive.
Origin of the Seeing Stones
Sometimes also known as the Seven Seeing-stones, the Palantiri features prominently in several of Tolkien’s written works, including The Lord of the Rings trilogy, The Unfinished Tales, and The Silmarillion. They are perfectly spherical objects imbued with magic. As noted in The Silmarillion, palantíri were made by the Elves of Valinor in the First Age. They were apparently made by Feanor himself, however, the exact number of stones he created is not specifically mentioned, but there are at least eight of them.
Seven of the stones given to Amandil of Númenor in the Second Age were saved by his son Elendil; he took them with him to Middle-earth, while the Master Stone (probably the greatest of all) remained behind. Of those captured, four were taken to Gondor (each in Orthanc, Minas Tirith, Osgiliath, and Minas Ithil), while three remained in Arnor. Eventually, the grandest of all keystones ended up on “The Lonely Isle” of Tol Eressëa just off the coast of the Aman of the Valar during the Third Age.
Appearance and Abilities
The palantíri (as seen in their live adaptation) appear to be dark, perfectly smooth spheres of various sizes. Some of them are small and portable (about a foot in diameter) while others (particularly the keystones) were too huge to be lifted by men. The stones were made of a dark crystal, indestructible by any normal means except perhaps the fire of Orodruine. They were unmarked or branded, and even when not seated they remained tamper-proof.
As told in the books, a palantíri was meant to be used by the Dunedain to communicate and gain information across the kingdoms in exile. The Stones responded best to those who had the right to use them; the kings themselves or their appointed stewards or guardians. The stones show the user visions of time and space, if the viewer has enough willpower to ward off the visions. It can also be used as a communication device. Those who were strong and wise enough to use the stones could mentally talk with a person looking away at their own stone. No one, not even Sauron, could make his own palantír. Nor could anyone force a stone to show false visions.
Their Importance in LOTR Films
In the movie ‘Fellowship of the Ring‘, a Palantir is revealed to be in the possession of the evil wizard – Saruman, the White. Sauron later uses the Palantir to order Saruman to build an army of Mordor Orcs. Later in the story, the hobbit Pippin is mentally attacked by Sauron via the Stone of Saruman, which he had found in the waters near the Tower of Orthanc.
In the movie ‘Return of the King‘, in order to get the Dark Lord’s attention, Aragorn looks into the Stone of Vision and tries to goad Sauron, threatening him with Narsil, the blade that originally cut the one ring from his finger. But Sauron’s will is also strong, and he in turn shows Aragorn a vision of his love Arwen, which fades instead of joining his mother in the Undying Lands using the Palantir he held. Also, in the extended edition of the same film, it is shown that Gandalf acquires the Palantír from Orthanc after Pippin retrieves it from Saruman’s corpse, instead of having worm tongue throw him out of a tower window.
Their Importance in Power Rings
A Seeing Stones or a Palantir can also be used for many nefarious reasons. It can spy on entire kingdoms, trap a user in the grip of a more powerful enemy, and present a twisted version of reality. But that never lies. In a sequence from the final episode of Rings of Power, the Queen Regent becomes aware of Númenor’s downfall, with the kingdom eventually sinking into the sea, with the help of a Palantiri in her possession. She knows that to prevent this from happening, the Númenóreans need only listen to what the Valar say. Because she knows that if they don’t, the tears of the Valar, represented by every white sheet of Nimloth that touches the ground, will not be all that falls on Númenor.
This vision of hers finally becomes reality. In the books, the city is ultimately punished for the actions of Ar-Pharazôn (the king of Numenor), who was in turn blinded by Sauron’s lies. This is a very important event in Tolkien’s book because until the destruction of Númenor, Arda was actually flat, but it was transformed into a round world after Numenor sank into the sea.