- "The palantír replied to each, but all those in Gondor were ever open to the view of Osgiliath. Now it appears that, as the rock of Orthanc has withstood the storms of time, so there the palantír
of that tower has remained. But alone it could do nothing but see small images of things far off and days remote. Very useful, no doubt, that was to Saruman; yet it seems that he was not content. Further and further abroad he gazed, until he cast his gaze upon Barad-dûr. Then he was caught!"
- ― Gandalf, The Palantír
The palantíri (sometimes translated as "Seeing Stones") were stones that could be used in communication with one another, and also to see many things across the face of the world. When its master looked in it, he could communicate with other Stones and anyone who might be looking into them; people of great power can manipulate the Stones to see virtually any part of the world.
Origin and early history
The palantíri were made by Fëanor in the Uttermost West. Many palantíri were made, but the number was not known. Elendil the Tall took seven with him in his flight to Middle-earth upon the Downfall of Númenor, and in time they were distributed to seven different locations: four in Gondor and three in Arnor. They were used largely for communication, but also to see what was occurring throughout the respective realms. Their existence was common knowledge, but no one was allowed easy access to them save for kings and rulers, appointed wardens, or by royal command.
Third Age and beyond
One by one the stones vanished from public knowledge or were lost. The Osgiliath-stone fell into Anduin during the Kin-strife and burning of that city in T.A. 1437. When Arvedui of Arthedain,0, was shipwrecked and his line ended in 1975, he drowned with the palantíri of Amon Sûl and Annúminas, the only communicating stones of Arnor. When Minas Ithil fell in 2002, the stone was assumed destroyed in general. The wiser and more foresighted men of Gondor decided that in case Sauron had seized the Stone, they would stop using the Anor-stone to prevent any contact with the Dark Lord. As the Elostirion-stone was locked away and could not answer the other stones anyway, the only remaining stone was the Orthanc-stone, which became useless to the Gondorians. When Beren of Gondor gave Saruman the deserted but secure Orthanc in 2759, he likely assumed that Saruman, head of the leading order against Sauron, would keep it safe.
Several of these hidden or lost stones came to light during the War of the Ring. Previous to this, Saruman used his palantír to gain knowledge, and eventually was caught when he dared to look toward Mordor. Thus, the above war was greatly affected by these stones. Later, in the final weeks of the War, its rightful master Aragorn Elessar wrested it to his will, so that it no longer had a connection with the stolen Ithil stone.[source?]
The second palantír to be revealed was that of Minas Anor. Denethor II of Gondor, too, had glanced toward Mordor with it, but his great hate of incarnate evil and power of will prevented him from being snared, though it taxed him greatly. Partially because of what he saw he eventually committed suicide in the darkest hour. This stone was later used by King Aragorn II, though it is said that anyone of weaker will who looked into it would see the writhing hands of Denethor in his final agony.
The final fate of most of the stones is unknown. The Elostirion-stone was taken west with the Ring-bearers in 3021 of the Third Age, severing the last link of Middle-earth to Valinor. The stones of Anor and Orthanc were believed to have been reinstated in the Reunited Kingdom and used officially once more. The Ithil-stone may have been destroyed in the fall of Barad-dûr, but it is also possible that it too was found and reused in the Reunited Kingdom. Whether or not the other three lost stones were ever found is never indicated; the Osgiliath-stone may have rolled into the Sea, or it may have lain still in the Anduin. The stones of Arnor, however, were lost in the frozen seas of Forochel, and therefore it is highly unlikely that they could ever be recovered.
- S.A. 3319 - Downfall of Númenor; seven Stones are taken to Middle-earth by the Faithful
- T.A. 861 - Division of Arnor; the Amon Sûl-stone is contested by Arthedain, Cardolan and Rhudaur.
- T.A. 1409 - The watchtower of Amon Sûl is destroyed by Angmar's forces; the Amon Sûl-stone is taken to Fornost Erain
- T.A. 1437 - Burning of Osgiliath; the Osgiliath-stone falls into Anduin
- T.A. 1974 - Fall of Arthedain; Arvedui salvages the Amon Sûl and Annúminas-stones and takes them with him.
- T.A. 1975 - Amon Sûl and Annúminas-stones sink in Forochel
- T.A. 2002 - Sauron seizes the Ithil-stone. Gondorians stop using the Anor-stone and Orthanc-stone.
- T.A. 2759 - Saruman assumes the Orthanc-stone.
- c. T.A. 3000 - Saruman is corrupted by the Stone.
- T.A. 3019 - The Stone is thrown by Grima Wormtongue; Aragorn twists the stone to his will.
- T.A. 3021 - The Elostirion-stone is taken West on the White Ship
They were perfect spheres, appearing to be made of solid glass or deep black crystal. The smallest stones were one foot in diameter; the larger stones too large for a single man to bear. They were unbreakable save, some thought, by the fires of Orodruin.
- The Master-stone was not one of the seven, but remained in the Tower of Avallónë in Tol Eressëa. It was the master stone. It apparently could not communicate with the stones of Middle-earth, or at least is not mentioned having done so.
- The Osgiliath-stone was the largest stone among the seven, and chief among them. It was placed in a prominent building in Osgiliath, the capital city of the kingdom of Gondor. The ceiling of its chamber was painted to resemble a starry sky. It was believed that the Osgiliath Stone got lost during the kin-strife as it fell into the Anduin withbthe collapse of the great tower in battle between rebels and loyalists.
- The Elostirion-stone, also known as the Elendil Stone, was placed by Elendil the Tall in the tower of Elostirion in the Emyn Beraid, just west of The Shire. The tower and stone were maintained and guarded by Cirdan the Shipwright and the Lindon-elves. Elendil used it to look back along the Straight Road to Eressëa and even the Tower of Avallónë and the Master-stone,and though it is indicated that he tried, he could not see the fallen Númenor. It could not be used in communication with the other stones, and was unique in this respect.
- The Amon Sûl-stone was placed in the watch-tower of Amon Sûl. It was the largest and most powerful of the Arnorian palantíri and the one most used in communication with Gondor. Like the Osgiliath-stone, it "could not be lifted by one man."It was believed that Arvedui of Arthedain had saved the Amon-sul-stone along with the annuminas-stone, but both stones were lost when his rescue-ship was wrecked before the coasts of Forochel.However there was a spurious legend in northern Eriador that the lossoth had found an Orb from the sky that had fallen into the sea, which some believed tomhave actually been one of the two palantiri.
- The Annúminas-stone was also placed in Arnor, in the city of Annúminas.I was probably lost in the wreck of Arvedui's ship along with the amon sul-Stone.
- The Ithil-stone was placed in Minas Ithil, in the mountains that came to be known as the Ephel Dúath. When Minas Ithil fell to the Nazgûl, the Ithil-stone was taken to Barad-dûr and used by Sauron.
- The Orthanc-stone was placed in the great tower built by the Dúnedain in the Second Age at the southern end of the Misty Mountains, Orthanc. It fell into the hands of the wizard Saruman,who used it to garner information on his neighbors and their activities. The stone was also partially responsible for Saruman's fall from grace, as he was using it when he came upon Sauron, and was ensnared by him. After the War of the Ring, the Orthanc-stone remained in the custody of the Kings of Gondor in the Fourth Age.
- The Anor-stone was placed at Minas Anor, later renamed Minas Tirith and made the capital of Gondor. It was kept an unused secret by the Ruling Stewards until it was ultimately used by Steward Denethor II to watch his land, and he eventually even challenged Sauron in a battle of wills. Denethor did not become corrupted, but the great effort of will that this required of him led him to age quickly. Denethor was holding the stone when he committed suicide on a funeral pyre, and after this, only people of exceeding power could see in it anything other than two flaming hands.
The purpose of the stones in general was dual: to communicate with one another, and to see afar. All the stones save for the Elostirion-stone could be used in communication with one another, although the bigger and more powerful stones were favoured for this use over long distances. The great Osgiliath-stone could spy on communication by the lesser stones, and a few others apparently also had special abilities. The stones' gaze could penetrate beyond any solid object, such as into deep caverns, but required light to see anything. A technique called shrouding was used when something was to be kept secret from any possible watchers using the stones. Knowledge of this technique was lost in time, although Sauron probably knew of it.
The user or "surveyor" of a palantír would first assure himself that the stone was oriented properly. Usually the stones were held firmly so that this did not have to occur at each viewing. Then the surveyor would take up a position facing the direction he would want to look; for instance, if he wished to look west, he would stand on the eastern side of the stone. The major stones, however, could be rotated, and thus did not require moving about. The stones were apparently controlled by will power; although chance largely dictated precisely upon what the gaze of the stones lay, the surveyor could manipulate and shift the gaze by merely concentrating, even when not touching the stone. This concentrating, however, was quite taxing, and so was not generally used save in urgent situations. Zooming in could be accomplished through the same methods, and standing three feet away from the stone achieved the best clarity and widest scope. Stronger and more skilled surveyors could generally see more easily and with less difficulty than others.
To communicate with another stone, the viewer would orient himself and look toward the location of that stone, and the two stones would automatically connect with one another unless one was being used in another conversation. The surveyor would transmit his thoughts to the other stone by thinking, but the person on the other end would hear it in his head. The surveyor and his contact would see one another, but sounds could not be transmitted save through the above method of thought.
The stones were generally placed in bowls or depressions in tables of black marble, oriented through trial and error so that the poles of the stone aligned with the centre of the world. The kings usually appointed deputies to look in the stone regularly, or on command, or in times of emergency. Others not authorized by the king could use them, but it took a great amount of willpower, and things were often less clear.
The name palantír (pl. palantíri) is Quenya, meaning "Far-seer", containing the element palan ("far and wide").