Like many precious relics in the Lord of the Rings, mithril is more than just a pretty stone mined by dwarves.
A gem “as light as a feather and as hard as dragon-scales,” mithril became a well-known and coveted object by the Third Age of Middle-earth. However, in the Second Age of Middle-earth, when The Rings of Power takes place, mithril is but a glittery rock brimming with potential. And as of Episode 4, the Dwarves aren’t eager to share their secret.
Spoilers ahead for Rings of Power Episode 4.
When Prince Durin IV (Owain Arthur) places a shard of mithril in Elrond’s (Robert Aramayo) hands, asking him to keep it as a gift and a token of his fealty, neither of them has a clue that it will become the most desirable metal in the whole realm; or that mithril will eventually save the life of a young Hobbit boy who, in turn, will save all of Middle-earth. But how important is that exact piece of mithril? Fans have been speculating that the shard could become part of Bilbo and Frodo’s famous armor.
What is Mithril?
The Dwarves discover the lightweight and malleable yet nearly indestructible silvery metal in Khazad-dûm via their dangerous work in the Mines of Moria. Initially, the Dwarves are bewildered by mithril and don’t fully understand its capabilities. They still, however, want to keep mithril a treasure by and for the Dwarves, as showcased by Durin III’s (Peter Mullan) paranoia over Elrond’s presence in Khazad-dûm. The Dwarf king fears that Elrond was sent by Gil-Galad (Benjamin Walker) and Celebrimbor (Charles Edwards) to steal the mithril.
Based on The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, we know that the Elves wind up using mithril for long-lasting and gorgeous jewelry, attire, and, occasionally, armor. Furthermore, the Men of Gondor used mithril to create the armor of the Guards of the Citadel. This happens sometime during and between the Second Age (when The Rings of Power takes place) and the Third Age (when The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings take place).
By the Third Age, the once plentiful mithril was an extremely rare treasure only found in Khazad-dûm. The Dwarves were said to have mined greedily, as mithril was worth 10 times its volume in gold. Presumably, the Dwarves began selling mithril to Elves and humans, going against the wishes of Durin III and Durin IV. Ultimately, excessive mining released a Balrog aptly named Durin’s Bane, which destroyed the Mines of Moria and forced the Dwarves to leave Khazad-dûm. Most of the mithril produced by the Dwarves before the fall of Moria was paid as a tribute to Sauron by the Orcs.
Toward the end of the Third Age, the only way to obtain mithril was to melt down existing heirlooms to forge new objects. One existing mithril artifact winds up in the hairy hands of Bilbo Baggins (Ian Holm) and later his nephew, Frodo.
Is Bilbo Baggins’ chainmail shirt forged in Rings of Power?
The most iconic object made of mithril in all of Tolkien’s work is the chainmail shirt worn by Bilbo and Frodo Baggins during their respective adventures.
The shirt’s origins are ambiguous, but we know it winds up in Smaug’s treasure heap in the Lonely Mountain, where the dwarves migrated after the fall of Khazad-dûm. Thorin III Oakenshield, the Dwarf leader and eventual king, gifted it to Bilbo before the Battle of the Five Armies. Years later, Bilbo passed down the chainmail shirt to Frodo, an act that would save Frodo’s life.
It’s likely, then, that the shirt was just one of many mithril products made by a Dwarf smith whose name has been lost to the annals of fictional time.
The Inverse Analysis— The shard of mithril gifted to Elrond in The Rings of Power was likely never manipulated by Elrond himself. Both Elrond and Durin IV considered this particular piece of mithril to be a symbol of their friendship and the relationship between the Elves and Dwarves. Both, at this point in the Amazon prequel series, are tenuous at best.
But while this specific fragment of mithril probably wasn’t used to create Bilbo Baggins’ famous chainmail shirt, we may see the shirt appear at some point throughout The Rings of Power as a fun Easter Egg for fans to spot. It has to be forged at some point, right?
The Rings of Power Episode 5 premieres Friday, September 23, on Amazon Prime Video.