Monolith Productions revealed that Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor's mysterious Wraith character is Celebrimbor, the original forger of the Rings of Power in J.R.R. Tolkien's Middle-earth legendarium.
Celebrimbor does not appear in the The Hobbit or The Lord of the Rings, which means most of Tolkien's modern audience will be introduced to this Elven warrior through the game, not through Tolkien's work. Celebrimbor's time in Tolkien's world occurred long before Thorin and his Company of Dwarves challenged Smaug for Erebor, and his work is directly responsible for Bilbo Baggins being such an excellent burglar due to his use of the one ring.
With this one character addition, this one plot point, Monolith Productions has proven the lengths to which they are willing to go to make Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor true to Tolkien's world, even though its story wasn't written by Tolkien himself. Celebrimbor's presence in the game means that everyone should be paying attention.
Who the hell is Celebrimbor?
Celebrimbor is introduced in The Silmarillion, Tolkien's textbook-like history of his world. The character was born sometime during the First Age of Middle-earth into the race of Noldor Elves (for reference, the War of the Ring occurred at the end of the Third Age). He was the only known grandchild of Feanor, the renowned Elven craftsman who created the Silmaril jewels and invented the Tengwar script — that squiggly writing around the One Ring. Thanks to a curse from the gods, disaster followed Feanor's family wherever they went — they were basically the House Stark of Middle-earth — which marked Celebrimbor for hardship even before his birth.
Mandos, god of death, had cursed the Noldor and Feanor's family for essentially being massive assholes and turning their backs on the gods. Celebrimbor could not sail away to the Undying Lands — the land of the gods — with the most of the Elven race because of this curse. Thus, Celebrimbor would remained in Middle-earth for his entire life ... which can be a very long time for elves.
Forging Rings in secret was the equivalent of anonymous Tumblr messages.
Celebrimbor ruled the region of Eregion during the Second Age, where he struck up a working relationship with the Dwarves living in the mines of Khazad-dum, or Moria, which is seen in The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring film. In the year 1500 of the Second Age, a beautiful man calling himself Annatar showed up in Eregion claiming to be an emissary of the gods. Annatar taught Celebrimbor and his group of jewel smiths the art of ring-making. In this way, sixteen of the Rings of Power — nine for the kings of Men and seven for the Dwarves — were made.
What Celebrimbor and friends didn't know was that Annatar was Sauron in disguise, and the ring-making classes he was teaching involved putting dark binding magic into the rings. Sauron was a being with power on the same level as Gandalf and the other wizards, and had spent several millennia working with Morgoth — the god of evil and the first Dark Lord. Sauron appeared "fair" to those around him, so Shadow of Mordor's depiction of him as a total babe is accurate. Dude is dead sexy. That's canon.
Death of an Elven O.G.
Here's where things got tricky. In secret, Celebrimbor crafted three more Rings of Power specifically for the Elves. These three rings were the only ones untouched by Sauron. At the same time, Sauron secretly forged the One Ring of Power in the fires of Orodruin (Mount Doom), which had the power to dominate all other Rings and use them to spy on their wearers.
As soon as Sauron put on the One Ring, everyone knew what was up. Sauron was unable to corrupt the Elves because of Celebrimbor's handiwork and war broke out between Sauron and the Elves. Celebrimbor sent away the Three Elven Rings, two to an Elven ruler in another region and one to Galadriel (who still had it at the time of The Hobbit).
Eregion was sacked. Celebrimbor was captured and tortured for the locations of the remaining Rings. In his torment, Celebrimbor revealed the whereabouts of the first sixteen rings; Sauron then gave nine to the Kings of Men and seven to the Dwarven kings. We don't know what happened to the Dwarves, definitively, but those nine men? The Ringwraiths.
But Celebrimbor would not reveal the location of the Three Elven Rings. After losing everything — his family, Eregion, the Rings of Power — Celebrimbor died from his torture. He was finally freed from his curse.
OR WAS HE?
Why should we care?
Celebrimbor is a major player in Tolkien's works, but he has never been a major player in the best-known books nor the movies or games. He appears in The Lord of the Rings' appendices and is named once by Elrond in the story. He is mentioned only in passing in other video games based on Tolkien's properties — players can collect items called "Symbols of Celebrimbor" in The Lord of the Rings Online and he makes a brief appearance in the prologue of Lego The Lord of the Rings.
Shadow of Mordor's use of Celebrimbor as a major player makes sense. Celebrimbor and Sauron's tangled history makes him the ideal candidate to come back from the dead seeking revenge, and his cunning — forging Rings in secret was the equivalent of anonymous Tumblr messages — is enough that I wouldn't put it past him to possess another guy to get the job done.
The way Sauron used Celebrimbor, Celebrimbor is now using Talion. He's learning, and growing cold. Dredging up Middle-earth history to this extent shows how far Monolith is willing to go to create something that fits snuggly into LOTR canon without disrupting what already exists.
Previous LOTR games created new characters. Both Snowblind Studios' The Lord of the Rings: The War in the North and EA's The Lord of the Rings: The Third Age created new groups that loosely followed along with the plot of the original story; the latter featured a rip-off Fellowship with one character from each Middle-earth race shadowing the true Fellowship of the Ring on its journey. These games used Tolkien's world at the surface level, but didn't delve very deep into the nearly endless lore.
Celebrimbor is Shadow of Mordor's trump card. If you've been dismissing the game as a me-too release, riding the success of The Hobbit films? Now may be the time to begin paying closer attention.