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Why nobody can actually say ‘Mordor’ yet in The Rings of Power

Let’s make J.R.R. Tolkien happy and talk about linguistics

Joseph Mawle as Adar, a scarred elf/orc, standing in front of his orc forces, who brandish torches in the darkness. Image: Prime Video

The penultimate episode of The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power’s first season packs an all-too-familiar reveal for fans of the Lord of the Rings, using its final scene to bring an old favorite into the world of the show. We knew it was coming with the forced eruption of Mount Doom last week, but “The Eye” makes it clear without any character actually saying the word.

Because none of them can say the word yet.

[Ed. note: This piece contains spoilers for The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power episode 7, “The Eye.”]

Galadriel (Morfydd Clark) stands in defiance bathed in red light in Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power Photo: Ben Rothstein/Prime Video

“The Eye” is all about the fallout from the eruption, as the Ostirith villagers, Númenórean troops, and our elven characters pick themselves up and confront their new reality. But at the close of the show, we come back to the architect of all this destruction, Adar, who encourages his orc children to take off the cloaks and helmets that used to protect them from the sun. With the ash and smoke constantly spewing from Mount Doom, they won’t need them anymore. This is their new home, a land made for them.

Waldreg, the Sauron-loving villager, starts up a cheer of “Hail Adar, lord of the Southlands,” but Adar tells them that the Southlands no longer exist. When asked what they should call it, Adar doesn’t answer, but just gazes off happily at Mount Doom, as the text “The Southlands” appears on the screen and burns away to reveal “Mordor.”

It’s a nice dramatic moment, but it’s also kind of funny when you consider Adar probably wouldn’t call it Mordor anyway.

Wait, isn’t it Mordor?

The Eye of Sauron sits in front of Mt. Doom in Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King Image: New Line Cinema

Yes, it’s definitely Mordor. Sauron settled in Mordor in the Second Age, amassing power and building the foundations of Barad-dûr, aka the big eye tower in The Lord of the Rings. Sometime after that he ventured out in disguise to manipulate Celebrimbor into teaching him how to make rings of power, and he wasn’t discovered until he went back to Mordor to forge the One Ring in Mount Doom and put it on for the first time. Which is all to say: Adar’s little anti-Sauron orc community may not be long for this world.

But the crux here comes from the most fundamental — and nerdiest — origin of The Lord of the Rings: J.R.R. Tolkien was a professor of linguistics. And so most of the things in Middle-earth don’t just have names, but names in the setting’s multiple invented languages. The name “Mordor” itself didn’t come from orcs or any of Sauron’s forces. Dwarves called it “Nargûn,” and Middle-earth’s elves coined the word “Mordor,” which means “dark land,” that was subsequently adopted by humans as well.

Adar, a guy who defiantly refers to himself by the orc word for orc — uruk — rather than an elven label, doesn’t seem like the type to name his new land something elvish, much less to name it something negative. It also wouldn’t make much sense if he came up with the name that elves would later use for Mordor on the spot. As an original character, Adar’s further arc is largely unknown, but it seems safe to say that he’s not going to have a huge effect on elven language evolution.

In this way, The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power’s “The Eye” may have been the first time in cinema history where carefully abiding by the linguistic rules of a setting made a scene more dramatic.

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