There are many magical tools and objects that have been revealed in The Lord of the Rings, but some of the objects that have stood the test of time and have existed for thousands of years include the Palantíri, which we saw during the events of Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings and in The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power. But what exactly are the Palantíri, and can they show the future?
The Palantíri are seeing stones that allow the users to communicate with each other through images from one Palantír to another. As such, they are not “crystal balls” that allow people to see the future but are, instead, largely used for communication with someone who has another Palantír.
Episode 4 of The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power seems to suggest that the Palantír in possession of the Númenoreans was able to show Queen Míriel the fate of Númenor. Nevertheless, there is a good chance that this was merely an image that made Míriel believe that the Fall of Númenor was coming so that her actions would be influenced by this upcoming doom.
What Are The Palantíri?
Throughout the entire history of The Lord of the Rings, we have seen a lot of different magical items that all have their own properties. Of course, one of the items that have been around since Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings movies and have made their way to The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power are the Palantíri.
We’ve seen a Palantír as early as the events of the first LOTR movie when Gandalf visited Saruman in his tower. Saruman revealed that he had a Palantír in his possession, as he told Gandalf that he was “enlightened” when he gazed upon it. It was this Palantír that actually corrupted Saruman because it showed him some of the things that Sauron wanted to show him so that he would join him in his takeover of Middle-Earth.
Saruman regularly used this Palantír to communicate with Sauron, and it was this very same Palantír that Pippin was curious enough to touch that they were able to make Sauron think that he was the one who had the One Ring in his possession.
Of course, we saw another Palantír during the events of The Rings of Power. In episode 4, Galadriel thought that he could convince the king of Númenor to march against Sauron’s armies on Middle-Earth. She, instead, saw Queen Regent Míriel in the chambers of the king, tending to him. Míriel allowed Galadriel to see the “future” of Númenor by taking her to the Palantír so that she would understand why the Queen Regent was so hesitant to help her in her cause against the dark lord. But what exactly are the Palantíri?
The Palantíri are magical objects that originate from Valinor, as it was Fëanor, the greatest of the elves, that was said to have created them. There were eight Palantír created by Fëanor, but he only took seven of them when he went to Middle-Earth to take back the Silmarils from Morgoth during the First Age.
Eventually, after the First Age, the Elves gave the Palantíri to the Númenoreans, who kept them in their possession until the Fall of Númenor. And the Palantír ended up in the hands of the Númenorean kings of Men on Middle-Earth when a few of them were fished out of the sea after the Fall of Númenor.
Essentially, the Palantíri were created by the Elves to be used as communication devices because they had the ability to allow the users to see the things that the user at the other end of another Palantír wanted them to see. These are dark spherical balls that are not so different from crystal balls in their appearance but are indestructible and capable of “mental conversations” between the two users.
That was essentially how Saruman was able to use the Palantír in Orthanc to communicate with Sauron, who had another Palantír in his possession in Mordor. Sauron was able to mentally communicate with Saruman, and it was through doing so that he was able to corrupt the Wizard into joining him.
Do The Palantíri Show The Future?
The writings of Tolkien all indicate that the Palantíri are communication devices that are not unlike the cellphones or the telephones that we have today. However, instead of allowing the users to communicate physically with one another, those who use the Palantíri are allowed to have mental conversations instead.
This is where the confusing part comes because it was in episode 4 of The Rings of Power that we saw Galadriel seeing images of the future when she touched the Palantír in Númenor. Of course, the same thing happened to Queen Regent Míriel, whose decisions were influenced by the fact that she saw the Fall of Númenor through the images in the Palantír. So, does that mean that the Palantír can show the future?
It is worth mentioning that there is nothing in Tolkien’s writings that suggest that the Palantír are capable of allowing the users to see the future. However, the thing is that the Palantíri are capable of allowing the users to see images.
Gandalf said that even creatures as powerful as Sauron are not able to make the Palantíri lie or create false images. Instead, the only thing that he could do was selectively use images to create a false impression upon the person at the other end of a Palantír.
In the LOTR movies, he made Pippin see the white tree of Gondor burning, but we all know that this didn’t happen. Sauron most likely selected images that made Pippin believe that the fall of Gondor was coming.
Meanwhile, in the book, Sauron “forced” Denethor to commit suicide when he made him think that Gondor was about to fall when he allowed him to see the Black Fleet approaching Gondor. However, the truth was that it was actually Aragorn’s troops in the ships, but Sauron neglected to show that to Denethor to influence him.
Tolkien never intended for the Palantíri to be able to tell the future because it was always suggested that he wanted the readers to speculate the meaning of a vision and become influenced by it. In a way, Tolkien didn’t believe in the “crystal ball” concept of telling the future because he intended the users to be able to act independently regardless of what had been told to them about the future.
So, if the Palantíri are not capable of showing the future, why were Míriel and Galadriel able to see the Fall of Númenor through the Palantír found in Númenor? Well, our best guess is that this was a way for the Valar to try to steer the Númenoreans in the right direction.
While there were seven Palantír brought to Middle-Earth, there still remained one more in Valinor, as this served as the Master-stone that could communicate with all of the other seven of the Palantíri. So, our best guess is that this stone was being used by the Valar to try to make the Númenorean kings and queens see what could happen to Númenor if they made the wrong choices.
It wasn’t supposed to be the intended future of Númenor, as Sauron also allowed Pippin to see the fall of Gondor through the Palantír. Instead, it was supposed to be a reminder of what could happen to Númenor if it tried to steer away from the proper course that they should take. This harmonizes the Palantíri’s intended purpose and meaning with what Tolkien wanted the readers to understand, as the visions in Númenor’s Palantíri was only meant to make Míriel rule her people the right way to avoid the possibility of the entire island getting swallowed by the sea once more.