Recently, we heard the news that NASA discovered the most distant star ever. No, not Joaquin Phoenix as Stephen Colbert suggests. It’s a literal star that’s “so far away that its light has taken 12.9 billion years to reach Earth.” 12.9 billion years. Let that sink in. But this information doesn’t truly wow Colbert. What gets the late-night show host is that NASA has named this Hubble-discovered star Earendel. This information about the most distant star on record flips a switch in Colbert. He just has to share an inspired The Lord of the Rings history lesson with us.
Let’s take a look. Colbert’s delightful nerdy rant begins around approximately the three-minute mark.
In this clip from The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, Colbert does acknowledge that the word “Earendel” has a non-nerdy definition. It means “morning star” in Old English. But that pales in comparison to its true importance. Colbert takes a deep breath and lets The Lord of the Rings knowledge pour out of him. He says:
Okay, but more importantly, it also inspired the name of Tolkien’s great half-elven mariner, Eärendil, son of Tuor and Princess Idril, daughter of Turgon, and father of Elros and Elrond, who voyaged to Valinor, entreated the Valar on behalf of the Children of Ilúvatar, and was sentenced to undying doom to carry a Silmaril bound to his forehead as a star and sail across the sky in his great ship Vingilótë until the end of days in the Dagor Dagorath. NASA, return my calls.
He pauses. Then Colbert looks at the audience and adds, “There were no jokes in any of that.” And indeed there weren’t. What Colbert did was offer a very thorough explanation to the question that was no doubt on many people’s minds when they heard the news of the star. Why did this far-away star remind them of The Lord of the Rings and which character were they thinking of exactly?
What jumps out to us, of course, is that Eärendil is Elrond’s father. Elrond, of course, will feature prominently in the upcoming Amazon Lord of the Rings series, The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power. The show will focus on the Second Age. But no doubt the highly mythologized First Age, which includes Eärendil, will play some role. So perhaps soon another star will take the name Eärendil. But for now, we’ll just feel content knowing that somewhere out there, very far away, a nerdy star lives. And that, should we ever need any Lord of the Rings questions answered, we simply have to call on one Stephen Colbert.