Patterns in the Sand: Guessing References in The Rings of Power Opening Sequence
It is now generally accepted that the peculiar opening sequence of The Rings of Power is an extended reference to the Ainulindalë, the Music of the Ainur, the Creation Myth of J.R.R. Tolkien’s legendarium. Recall that this myth – the first chapter of the published Silmarillion – consists of Eru Ilúvatar creating the Ainur, and then having the Ainur sing the Universe into existence. The show attempts to represent this by so-called Chladni Figures (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ernst_Chladni#Chladni_figures), whereby sound vibrations create patterns out of sand… literally music giving birth to meaning, and the shaping of existence out of raw material.
Well and good. Can we be more precise about these representations? Some parts are obviously clearer than others, but I figured I would make an heroic stab at making sense of it.
I don’t think this is the Ainulindalë in a literal sense, but something broader… a representation of Tolkien’s universe from the Beginning to the World as we find it, a comment on Creation as represented by Music on Matter.
- 0:01-0:12: The stirring of the sand, and the formation of nine circles. I do not know what the individual image of 0:06 is supposed to represent, if anything, but my interpretation of the nine circles is that this is a representation of the Valar. Potentially the central one is Melkor as originally conceived, plus the eight most powerful Valar, the Aratar.
- 0:13-0:27: Out of the work of the Valar comes the Two Trees (we’re skipping the Lamps).
- 0:28: The Awakening of the Elves.
- 0:29-0:35: The Princes of the Noldor, as represented by the series of eight-pointed stars.
- 0:36-0:40: Out of the Noldor comes a representation of the three Silmarils.
- 0:41-0:48: I am uncertain about the diamond-shape with the four lines coming out at right angles, but I think its dissolution into two rival shapes might represent the dissolution of the House of Finwë into the Fëanorian and Fingolfinian factions. At a stretch, also the divide between Aman and Middle-earth, with the Helcaraxë between?
- 0:49-0:53: Further generations of Elves?
- 0:54-0:58: The snaking line of black sand is a clear-cut reference to the Discord of Melkor worming its way into the heart of creation. The change in the music is also noticeable.
- 0:59-1:04: A representation of the Awakening of Men?
- 1:05-1:11: The world of Arda itself, the Marred Creation… but nevertheless Our World.
Overall, perhaps not as striking or familiar as the molten metal in a mould from the Title Announcement, but an exceptionally clever piece of work nonetheless. Potentially too clever.