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Lord of the Rings Rings & Things: Palantir


- Appears in The Fellowship of the Ring and The Return of the King

The Palantiri were ancient seeing stones. There were seven stones and they were distributed throughout Middle Earth as a means of communication or watchfulness. They were located in Amon Sûl (now known as Weathertop), Minas Ithil (now known as Minas Morgul, Minas Tirith, Osgiliath, Tower of Orthanc and two other locations in Northern Middle Earth. By the Third Age, only three of them remained. Denethor used the one in Minas Tirith. Sauron took the one captured from Minas Ithil (now Minas Morgul) and brought it to the Tower of Barad-dûr. Saruman used the one found in the Tower of Orthanc.

In The Fellowship of the Ring:
When Gandalf came to Isengard to consult with Saruman concerning the One Ring, he noticed the Palantir and wanted to cover it. It wasn't long after that Saruman told him of his alliance with Sauron. Later, Saruman used the Palantir to talk to Sauron, who told him to build an army.

In The Return of the King:
When Gandalf and others went to Isengard to talk to Saruman who was trapped in the Tower of Orthanc by the Ents, the Palantir was thrown out. Pippin found it before Gandalf took it from him. When they returned to Edoras, Pippin snuck up and took the Palantir from a sleeping Gandalf. He then looked into it and his mind was held by Sauron. From what Pippin told of what he saw in Sauron's mind, Gandalf was able to discern that Sauron was planning to attack Gondor. Gandalf and Pippin rode to Gondor to warn Denethor, but a comment from Denethor seemed to indicate that he'd been using Minas Tirith's Palantir. After the Battle of Pelennor Fields, used a Palantir to reveal himself to Sauron in hopes of distracting him from searching for Frodo.

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Secretive data company Palantir just officially revealed its plans to go public. Here's why it's named after an all-powerful seeing stone in the 'Lord of the Rings'

  • Palantir, the data-mining company co-founded by Peter Thiel, was named after a mystical, all-powerful seeing stone in "Lord of the Rings."
  • One of the story's villains, the wizard Saruman, uses a "palantir" to surveil his enemies.
  • The stone's power and limitless knowledge corrupt Saruman and allow him to be manipulated, leading to his downfall.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

Palantir, the secretive and controversial Silicon Valley data firm, is gearing up to go public — and the company just detailed its highly-anticipated plans to do so via a direct listing.

In an S-1 filed Tuesday, the company disclosed its stock-listing documents for the first time, revealing details of Palantir's planned stock structure, its execs' multi-million-dollar salaries, and the fact that it's never been profitable.

It was founded in 2003 by some of the "PayPal mafia," including now billionaire investor and Trump adviser Peter Thiel. He, along with the rest of the Valley's inner circle, harbors a deep-seated obsession with J.R.R. Tolkien's "Lord of the Rings" — so much so that Palantir's founders opted for a moniker inspired by a magical object in the fantastical universe.

lord of the rings
New Line Cinema/Business Insider

The palantiri are a collection of indestructible crystal stones used in Tolkien's fictional Middle Earth as a means of "far-seeing" communication.

The wizard Saruman uses one of the all-powerful seeing stones to surveil his foes and is ultimately corrupted by the unbounded knowledge that it provides him. Sauron — the main villain in the books and the films — reaches Saruman through the palantir and manipulates him into doing his bidding.

Critic and leading Tolkien scholar Jane Chance Nitzsche wrote that Saruman uses the stone to "seek Godlike knowledge by gazing in a short-sighted way" into the palantir. By opting for "mere knowledge" instead of actual wisdom, the wizard eventually met his downfall.

lord of the rings palantir
New Line Cinema

In the movie, you might also remember Peregrin "Pippin" Took mischievously snatching a palantir while Gandalf and the others are asleep. He and the rest of the story's heroes continuously dodge their enemies' line of sight in order to complete their main quest: destroying the One Ring and ridding Middle Earth of such a source of evil.

Palantir, the tech firm, creates software that gives its customers a wide-ranging, searchable database to find what they're looking for. So naming the company after an object that provides a broad scope of sight might seem fitting.

But Palantir has drawn criticism for partnering with law enforcement agencies including ICE. Its ICE contract came under scrutiny from 15 members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, who also questioned whether Palantir was sharing people's health data with ICE. Palantir denied that it shares data between the different federal agencies. An HHS spokesperson also denied that the data was being shared.

Palantir isn't the only tech company connected to Thiel that bears a LOTR-inspired name and has drawn criticism.

He was an early investor in military-contracting startup Anduril, which was named after the magical sword in the series that was wielded by the trilogy's hero, Aragorn. The company, founded by Palmer Luckey in 2017, was recently awarded a contract with US Customs and Border Protection to build a virtual "wall" as a means to prevent illegal crossings into the US. The system will utilize surveillance towers to detect movement.

Fans of the beloved books have taken issue with companies that have names inspired by "Lord of the Rings" and work with border authorities like CBP.

"It's really not even close to the point, but between this and [Palantir], wtf is up with tech bros using Lord of the Rings names for their big data services for the military?" a Twitter user said last year. "Did I miss some pro-war/surveillance message in Tolkien's work?"

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Fictional magical artefact from J. R. R. Tolkien's fantasy legendarium

A palantír (; pl.palantíri) is a fictional magical artefact from J. R. R. Tolkien's Middle-earthlegendarium. A palantír (from Quenyapalan, 'far; tir, 'watch over'[T 1]) was an indestructible ball of crystal, used for communication and to see events in other parts of Arda, whether past or future.

The palantíri were made by the Elves of Valinor in the First Age, as told in The Silmarillion. By the time of The Lord of the Rings at the end of the Third Age, a few palantíri remained in existence. They are used in some climactic scenes by major characters: Sauron, Saruman, Denethor the Steward of Gondor, and two members of the Fellowship of the Ring, Aragorn and Pippin.

A major theme of palantír usage is that while the stones show real objects or events, those using the stones had to "possess great strength of will and of mind" to direct the stone's gaze to its full capability.[T 2] For others attempting to use the palantír, the stones were often an unreliable guide to action, since to them it was unclear whether events shown were past or future; what was not shown could be more important than what was selectively presented. A risk lay in the fact that users with sufficient power could choose what to show and what to conceal to other stones: in The Lord of the Rings, a palantír falls into the Enemy's hands making the usefulness of all other existing stones questionable. Commentators such as Paul Kocher note the hand of providence in their usage, while Joseph Pearce compares Sauron's use of the stones to broadcast wartime propaganda. Tom Shippey suggests that the message is that "speculation", looking into any sort of magic mirror (Latin: speculum) or stone to see the future, rather than trusting in Providence, leads to error.

Fictional artefact[edit]


In Tolkien's high fantasy The Lord of the Rings, the palantíri were made by the Elves of Valinor in the Uttermost West, by the Noldor, apparently by Fëanor himself. The number that he made is not stated, but there were at least eight. Seven of the stones given to Amandil of Númenor during the Second Age were saved by his son Elendil; he took them with him to Middle-earth, while at least the Master-stone remained behind.

Four were taken to Gondor, while three stayed in Arnor. Originally, the stones of Arnor were at Elostirion in the Tower Hills, Amon Sul (Weathertop), and Annuminas: the Elostirion stone, Elendil's own, looked only Westwards from Middle-earth across the ocean to the "Master-stone" at the "Tower of Avallonë upon Eressëa", an island off Valinor. The stones of Gondor were in Orthanc, Minas Tirith, Osgiliath, and Minas Ithil.

By the time of The Lord of the Rings, the stone of Orthanc was in the hands of the wizard Saruman, while the stone of Minas Ithil, (by then Minas Morgul, the city of the Nazgûl), had been taken by Sauron. That of Minas Tirith remained in the hands of the Steward of Gondor, Denethor. The stone of Osgiliath had been lost in the Anduin when the city was sacked.[T 3]


Looking into a palantír allowed one to communicate with anyone else looking into another such stone. In addition, beings of great power could manipulate the stones to see virtually any part of the world.

Tolkien described the stones as made of a dark crystal, indestructible by any normal means, except perhaps the fire of Orodruin. They ranged in size from a diameter of about a foot (30 cm) to much larger stones that could not be lifted by one person. The Stone of Osgiliath had power over other stones including the ability to eavesdrop. The minor stones required one to move around them, thereby changing the viewpoint of its vision, whereas the major stones could be turned on their axis.[T 3]

ViewerImagePresenterIncorrect assumptionActuallyResult, deceived
The Dark Lord
Pippin, a hobbitPippin,
Pippin is "the halfling",
and has the One Ring;
Saruman has captured it
Another halfling, Frodo,
has the Ring
Sends Nazgûl to Orthanc,
does not watch Ithilien
The Steward of Gondor
Sauron's armed might,
fleet of Corsairs of Umbar
approaching Gondor
Fleet is the enemy;
victory in battle impossible
Aragorn has
captured the fleet
Commits suicide
SauronElendil's heir (Aragorn)
with Elendil's sword
Aragorn now has the Ring,
will soon attack Mordor
The Ring is on
its way to Mordor
Attacks Gondor prematurely;
fails to guard Cirith Ungol
or to watch Mordor

A wielder of great power such as Sauron could dominate a weaker user through the stone, which was the experience of Pippin Took and Saruman. Even one as powerful as Sauron could not make the palantíri "lie", or create false images; the most he could do was to selectively display truthful images to create a false impression in the viewer's mind. In The Lord of the Rings, four such uses of the stones are described, and in each case, a true image is shown, but the viewer draws a false conclusion from the facts. This applies to Sauron when he sees Pippin in Saruman's stone and assumes that Pippin has the One Ring, and that Saruman has therefore captured it.[T 4] Denethor, too, is deceived through his use of a palantír, this time by Sauron, who drives Denethor to suicide by truthfully showing him the Black Fleet approaching Gondor, without telling him that the ships are crewed by Aragorn's troops, coming to Gondor's rescue. Shippey suggests that this consistent pattern is Tolkien's way of telling the reader that one should not "speculate" – the word meaning both to try to double-guess the future, and to look into a mirror (Latin: speculum 'glass or mirror') or crystal ball – but should trust in providence and make one's own mind up, bravely facing one's duty in each situation.

The English literature scholar Paul Kocher similarly noted the hand of providence: Wormtongue's throwing of the stone providentially leads to Pippin's foolish look into the stone, which deceives Sauron; and it allows Aragorn to claim the stone and use it to deceive Sauron further. This leads him to assume that Aragorn has the One Ring. That in turn provokes Sauron into a whole series of what turn out to be disastrous actions: a premature attack on Minas Tirith; a rushed exit of the army of Angmar from the pass of Cirith Ungol, letting the hobbits through with the One Ring, and so on until the quest to destroy the ring succeeds against all odds.

The critic Jane Chance Nitzsche writes that Saruman's sin, in Christian terms, is to seek Godlike knowledge by gazing in a short-sighted way into the Orthanc palantír in the hope of rivalling Sauron, and, quoting Tolkien in The Two Towers, exploring "all those arts and subtle devices, for which he forsook his former wisdom". She explains that he is in this way giving up actual wisdom for "mere knowledge", imagining the arts were his own but in fact coming from Sauron. This prideful self-aggrandisement leads to his fall. She notes that it is ironic in this context that palantír means "far-sighted".

Joseph Pearce compares Sauron's use of the seeing stones to "broadcast propaganda and sow the seeds of despair among his enemies" with the communications technologies used to spread propaganda in the Second World War and then the Cold War, when Tolkien was writing.[4]

In film[edit]

A palantír appears in the film director Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings films. The Tolkien critic Allison Harl compares Jackson to Saruman, and his camera to a palantír, writing that "Jackson chooses to look through the perilous lens, putting his camera to use to exert control over the [original Tolkien] text."[7] Harl cites Laura Mulvey's essay "Visual Pleasure and the Narrative Cinema"[8] which describes "scopophilia", the voyeuristic pleasure of looking, based on Sigmund Freud's writings on sexuality. Harl gives as an example the sequence in The Two Towers where Jackson's camera "like the Evil Eye of Sauron" travels towards Saruman's tower, Isengard and "zooms into the dangerous palantír", in her opinion giving the cinema viewer "an omniscient and privileged perspective" consisting of a Sauron-like power to observe the whole of Middle-earth. The sequence ends fittingly, in her opinion, with Mordor and the Eye of Sauron, bringing the viewer, like Saruman, to meet the Enemy's gaze.[7]


The software company Palantir Technologies was named by its founder, Peter Thiel, after Tolkien's seeing stones.[9]

A telescope at the Lowell Observatory, using a main mirror with spherical curvature, has the acronym PALANTIR.[10] This stands for Precision Array of Large-Aperture New Telescopes for Image Reconstruction, and is meant to reference the "far-seeing stones in [the] Lord of the Rings".[11]



This list identifies each item's location in Tolkien's writings.
  1. ^Tolkien 1987The Lost Road and Other Writings, part 3, "Etymologies" s.v. PAL, TIR. Tar-Palantir was also the name of the 24th ruler of Númenor, so named for being 'far-sighted'.
  2. ^Tolkien 1977The Silmarillion, "Of the Rings of Power and the Third Age"
  3. ^ abTolkien 1980Unfinished Tales, part 4, 3. "The Palantíri"
  4. ^Tolkien 1954The Two Towers, book 3, ch. 11 "The Palantír"



  • Tolkien, J. R. R. (1954), The Two Towers, The Lord of the Rings, Boston: Houghton Mifflin (published 1987), ISBN 
  • Tolkien, J. R. R. (1977), Christopher Tolkien (ed.), The Silmarillion, Boston: Houghton Mifflin, ISBN 
  • Tolkien, J. R. R. (1980), Christopher Tolkien (ed.), Unfinished Tales, Boston: Houghton Mifflin, ISBN 
  • Tolkien, J. R. R. (1987), Christopher Tolkien (ed.), The Lost Road and Other Writings, Boston: Houghton Mifflin, ISBN 
LOTR The Return of the King - Extended Edition - Aragorn Masters the Palantír


Lotr palantir


The Palantíri: Seeing Stones of Middle-earth - Tolkien Explained


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