Any fan of J.R.R Tolkien's 'The Lord of the Rings' is sure to be familiar with Amazon's new series 'The Rings of Power'. However, for those who are not, the series is based partially on the LoTR novels.
The show follows an original story set around events and characters directly from the books, also introducing new events, locations, and characters to the Middle-earth universe. However, fans may be wondering where the show exists relative to the timeline of LoTR and 'The Hobbit'? The answer is more complex than you may think.
Warning: Potential spoilers ahead!
A very brief history of Middle-Earth
Years of the Lamps
At the beginning of Arda's (Earth) creation, Middle-Earth was shaped by a group referred to as the 'Powers of Arda'; also known as the Valar. The Valar were Tolkien's representation of angels or gods in the Middle Earth's universe. One of the Valar called Melkor however, turns to the darkness and begins to destroy much of Middle-Earth that the Valar had built themselves. Melkor is eventually defeated and captured until he is unfortunately freed later. The Valar, therefore, headed West from Middle-Earth, where they built their new home of Valinor. This eventually becomes the home of the elves and the location in which The Rings of Power is initially set.
Years of the Trees
During this following period, known as the 'Years of the Trees', elves and humans appear in the Middle-Earth. The elves join the Valar in Valinor, which is also referenced in the early parts of the first episode. You may remember the line narrated by Galadriel's character "...we had no word for death, for we thought our joys would be unending". The trees Galadriel fondly remembers from her youth are the lights of Valinor and the elves. Melkor, now known as Morgoth, steals 'the light' of Valinor and takes it back to Middle-Earth. The elves form an army to defeat Morgoth once and for all and follow him across the seas.
The First Age
In the show, after the death of her brother Finrod, Galadriel tasks herself to continue his mission. This is referring to the events of the elven conflict against Morgoth in what is known as the 'First Age'. The First Age continues until the final conquest over Morgoth which leads to his demise. The exact timescale is uncertain due to a lack of any specific dates stated in Tolkien's works. Therefore estimations over the time span of the First Age vary. What is clear is this age is succeeded by the 'Second Age', which is the setting of The Rings of Power within the LOTR universe.
What happens in and after the Second Age
The Second Age includes all the events between the joining of the elves and the race of men and the creation of each of the Rings of Power (hence the series name) including the One Ring forged by Sauron for himself, which leads to the war and Sauron's downfall. But aside from the Battle of the Rings, several other significant events for Middle-earth take place. The end of the Second Age is what is described during the prologue of the LoTR first book, 'The Fellowship of the Ring'. All that follows in the plot of both the Hobbit and the LoTR is the entirety of the Third and the Fourth age of Middle-Earth.
How many years between the series and books are there?
Now that the numerous ages of Middle-Earth have been established, how many years are there between the show and the books? Well, the series roughly starts in the first part of the Second Age. Númenor is well established and approaching the height of its power. The elves are just starting to discuss the forging of the rings of power. And Sauron is increasing his presence once again in Middle-Earth, starting with the construction of Mordor. All these events suggest the series is present potentially almost 3,000 years before the beginning of the Third Age – and an additional 2,941 years until the events of 'The Hobbit', meaning there is potentially a 6,000-year timespan between the series and 'Fellowship of the Ring'. Considering Galadriel is featured in both, it really puts into perspective the lifespan of the elves.
If only it was that simple…
The reason it is truly difficult to place the period in which the show is set is simply that the story is based upon original events of its own making. If the series will be showing the forging of the rings of power, then it will be depicting events, according to Tolkien's record of Middle-Earth, as taking place far closer than he intended. Events of the Second Age, which transpire for over three thousand years, will likely be depicted as occurring within only a few short years or months of each other. There will also likely be certain details that the show will not include at all, and others it will create for itself. It is not difficult to see why fans do not consider The Rings of Power as canon when clearly it strays so far from its original source material.
If you are a fan of the Rings of Power and are merely interested in the continuing story of the LoTR series, then maybe you shouldn't focus on the specifics. The show is certainly taking a lot of liberties with the facts of the books in its interpretation. However, Amazon is instead trying to create a show which tells the story in a compressed format, but still with much of the familiarity of Tolkien's works that we have come to know and love. Possibly the least complicated answer to the show's chronology is simply just 'before'.