The Third Age
And this is where the fun really begins… Unless you’re an Elf. You see, after pretty much ruling Middle-earth since Ilúvatar saw fit to introduce them to Arda, the Elves found themselves troubled by the seemingly endless wars going on, not to mention the rise of those troublesome Men. Cue a mass exodus to a mysterious place named Valinor (the Undying Lands), where the Valar were said to reside – comparisons to Heaven and its angels notwithstanding.
The Third Age is categorised by a slow lessening of magic in Middle-earth as its most powerful beings (besides Wizards) started buggering off and clearing way for the Age of Men. By the War of the Ring, Elves were largely restricted to Rivendell (under Elrond), Lothlórien (under Galadriel), the Silvan Elves of Mirkwood (who kidnapped the Dwarves in The Hobbit) and Lindon, ruled by the bearded Círdan.
Which brings us to The Hobbit – which you will all be familiar with from 2012 onwards, thanks to Guillermo del Toro. It’s about a halfling named Bilbo venturing from his safe abode to embark upon a quest with a merry band of Dwarves and Gandalf. After many encounters with everything from giant spiders to a treasure-encrusted dragon named Smaug, Bilbo went home to the Shire with a new appreciation of the outside world and the knowledge that he helped defeat a dragon (who would have been a major ally of Sauron’s a few years later if he hadn’t). The Hobbit was also in possession of a little gold ring that he found in a tunnel under the Misty Mountains, just before he exchanged riddles in the dark with a creature named Gollum.
The Ring gave Bilbo unnaturally long life and then passed to his nephew Frodo Baggins, who was 50 years old (young for a Hobbit) when he set out to destroy the Ring at Gandalf’s behest. If the Ring had fallen into Sauron’s hands, the nasty Dark Lord would have been able to rule Middle-earth. As we all know, Frodo did a sterling job and the Ring was destroyed in the fires of Mount Doom… ushering in the end of Sauron, the rise of the Age of Man and the start of the Fourth Age.
Respect is due.
The Fourth Age
And now for the dullest of all the Ages, if only because the world-building and wars were out of the way – although there were still a few skirmishes to be found here and there among the former allies of Sauron, who were sore losers (Orcs aside, because they ran away and never came back, the filthy cowardses).
Yes, in the Fourth Age everybody effectively lived happily ever after. The race of Men grew stronger, most particularly under the reign of King Elessar – that’s Aragorn to you and me – who was shacked up with Arwen in his rightful kingdom of Gondor and do-gooding for all his might.
Thanks to him, the formerly divided lands of Gondor and Arnor were reunited, creating what came to be known as, uh, the Reunited Kingdom. He freed the slaves of Sauron and gave them their own land in Mordor. Additionally, he made peace with a large swathe of the Haradrim (you know, the guys who had the giant Oliphaunts) and Easterlings, the races of Men from the South who had sided with Sauron. With so much peacemaking achieved, you’d be forgiven for thinking that Aragorn was the Barack Obama of his day.
The Elves used the rest of the Fourth Age to leave Middle-earth for good, hopefully content that those pesky Men had sorted themselves out.
Meanwhile, the Dwarves re-entered the Mines of Moria to dig out Mithril to rebuild the gates of Minas Tirith (after all, Gandalf got rid of the Balrog, so it was safe now).
However, the days of Dwarves were numbered. There were more male Dwarves than female and, what with the women being fussy and the men being wrapped up in their mining, there wasn’t much in the way of procreation for a long time. Their numbers dwindled and their eventual fate, while not spelled out by Tolkien, probably wasn’t bright.
Still, at least the Dwarves had a choice in the matter: the poor Ents, as marshalled by Treebeard in The Return of the King, never did find their missing Entwives, and rumour has it that to this day there are ancient Ents out there who gave up searching and just stood around until they went all tree-ish. Or were attacked by chainsaws and turned into IKEA furniture – whatever came first.
The end of the Third Age saw Gandalf (then 3,000 years old, no less) boarding a ship for Valinor along with Frodo, Bilbo, Galadriel and Elrond. After years as Mayor of the Shire, Samwise Gamgee joined them (as a Ringbearer himself, if only for a short while, he was entitled to sail off to Valinor). Fellow Hobbits Merry and Pippin kept up their links with the realms of Rohan and Gondor – and by the time they died they were reported to have been the tallest Hobbits ever (thanks to all the Entwine they drank, seen in the Extended Edition of The Two Towers).
Lastly and rather touchingly, Legolas and Gimli never married and remained firm friends, travelling Middle-earth and overcoming their rivalry. Legolas even took Gimli with him to Valinor when the Dwarf was on his last legs, so they could be together forever. Brings a tear to the eye, doesn’t it?
Words by Jayne Nelson © Total Film magazine #157, August 2009. All Rights Reserved.