Part 37 - Maille in “The Lord of the Rings”
“One ring to rule them all? More like 12.5 million!”
by Lord Thomas the Black
Welcome back to another edition of Blackmaille!
Regular readers may remember a few months back, in my “Maille and Hollywood” article (Blackmaille part 32). That I said I could write an entire article on “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy, and the maille used therein. Well, after reading the ongoing debates as to weaves, ring sizes and materials in online discussion forums, I decided, “So be it!” and thus, I give you:
Maille in “The Lord of the Rings” or “One ring to rule them all? More like 12.5 million!”
Even now, three years after the last movie of the trilogy was released on DVD, Peter Jackson’s “The Lord of the Rings” continues to garner both critical praise as well as new fans. New maillers appear on the online discussion forums every day, inspired by these movies to learn the art of maille. Debates continue regarding the details of particular maille pieces in the films, with speculation running rampant, but few real facts. In this article, I hope to put to rest some of this debate. I’ll examine some of the more striking pieces used in the films, and discuss the “movie magic” used to achieve the look of these pieces.
“The Lord of the Rings” (heretofore referred to as “LotR”) was a groundbreaking work for the mailling community. Never before had so much real maille appeared in a movie. Not only that, but the techniques developed to produce so much maille in so (relatively) little time resulted in a new way of manufacturing maille for movies, thus opening the door for even more Hollywood depictions of period-correct armor!
Before LotR, maille was made of metal, which is very heavy and hot for actors to wear for long periods of time. During the making of LotR however, Weta Workshop hit on a new way to make maille: slice PVC pipe into thin rings, weave them together, and paint them to look like metal! The resulting maille looked right, moved right, and weighed only a fraction of what even the lightest metal weighed.
Carl Payne is credited as being the Senior Chain Maille Technician on the trilogy, and his team of just four people (himself, Erica Anderson, Kerry McSaveney, and Christopher Smith) hand-linked 12,500,000 individual rings to produce the maille used in the trilogy. Creating 12.5 million rings required over seven miles of PVC pipe, cut with a jigsaw, and hand-assembled in an insanely laborious process taking 2.5 years (or roughly 31,200 man-hours).
This invention of plastic maille led to the creation of Weta/Tenzan Chain Maille, and a proprietary injection-molded method of ring manufacture, which later saw use in such blockbusters as “The Chronicles of Narnia: the Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe” and “Kingdom of Heaven”.
In choosing which pieces I wanted to examine, I downloaded transcripts of the online debates, to see what people were most interested in. I’ve narrowed down the biggest debates to the following people/scenes:
Elrond’s mantle in the opening battle, “The Fellowship of the Ring”
Isildur’s maille, “The Fellowship of the Ring”
Frodo’s Mithril shirt, “The Fellowship of the Ring”
Boromir’s maille, “The Fellowship of the Ring”
The maille of the Rohirrim, “The Two Towers”
Gondorian maille, “The Return of the King”
Researching the armor of these people/races came down largely to four main sources, to whom I owe a huge debt: “The Lord of the Rings: Weapons and Warfare” by Chris Smith, theonering.net (for their vast library of pictures), Darren Reddiex at Weta Workshops, and Cat Devereaux and Judy Mitchell of alleycatscratch.com, who were kind enough to provide me with the best leads and pictures of the maille used in the trilogy. Thank you all!
One with the show…
Elrond (Hugo Weaving)
In the opening battle scene of “The Fellowship of the Ring”, Elrond (Hugo Weaving) is seen wearing a diamond-shaped maille mantle with his Elvish armor. The online message boards soon erupted with debate: what weave is that? What ring size? What material is it? Etc, etc, etc.
According to Judy Mitchell of alleycatscratch.com, Elrond’s mantle is nothing more complicated than European 4-in-1, hung 90 degrees from normal, so that it hangs open and appears stiffer than normal maille. This was confirmed by Darren Reddiex from Weta Workshops, who added that this was a fine-weave “butcher’s maille” apron.
In truth, my research indicates that all of the maille used in LotR was European 4-in-1. Further, the principle actors in any given scene were given metal maille, while the rest were issued PVC maille (this has been dubbed the “hero maille” rule). The exception to this was “Eomer” (Karl Urban), who was allowed plastic maille due to his being on horseback for most of his scenes.
But I digress. To set the record straight, Elrond’s mantle was constructed of 1/4” welded stainless steel rings in European 4-in-1, hung 90 degrees off.
Isidlur (Harry Sinclair)
In “The Fellowship of the Ring”, when Isildur is expected to throw the One Ring into Mt Doom, he’s wearing what appears to be a high-collared maille hauberk. In fact, this was two separate pieces. One was an undertunic with maille sleeves, while the other was a maille “standard” or collar.
The rings were 3/8” I.D., and were PVC, even in the close-ups (as you can probably tell from the picture), making him the second exception to the “hero maille” rule. His PVC maille was painted to look like steel and brass, and was woven in the 4-in-1 pattern.
Frodo Baggins (Elijah Wood)
Ah, the infamous mithril shirt. I doubt any other piece of armor (maille or otherwise) in any other movie has inspired as much heated debate as to how it was made, and with what materials. J.R.R. Tolkien described the mithril coat thusly: “It was close-woven of many rings, as supple almost as linen, cold as ice, and harder than steel…”
To set the record straight, there is NO SUCH THING AS MITHRIL! It doesn’t actually exist; it was an invention of Tolkien’s epic imagination. So no, you can’t actually make mithril maille, regardless how much money you have to spend on it. And yes, sadly, I did actually come across debates to this effect in my research.
Frodo’s mithril coat in LotR was actually nothing more than a “shark suit” shirt woven by machine by the Whiting-Davis corporation, with a cast collar added. This was then sprayed with pearlescent paint for that extra shimmer (no special effects used here). The maille itself is 1/8” rings of welded stainless steel.
Interestingly, only one full shirt was made, and was only seen in the scene in “The Fellowship of the Ring” where Bilbo gives the shirt to Frodo, and again in “Return of the King” when Frodo’s orc captors are fighting over it. To lessen the chance of damage to this shirt, in all other scenes in which it appears, the “shirt” is in fact just a maille dickey consisting of the collar and a small bit of maille. Just enough to look like the real thing when viewed through Frodo’s open neckline.
Boromir (Sean Bean)
Boromir’s “hauberk” is another of Weta Workshop’s little cheats. Rather than have Sean Bean walk around in four layers of garb and armor all day, the maille actually consists solely of sleeves attached to the undertunic. When worn with everything else, it looks like a full hauberk.
Boromir is a good example of the “hero maille” rule, as the maille worn in close-ups is 3/8” bright aluminum, whereas that used in distance shots or fight scenes is matching silver-painted PVC, all woven in the standard European 4-in-1 pattern.
The Riders of Rohan (Rohirrim)
The maille worn by the Rohirrim was the usual painted PVC, differing only in that it was painted prior to assembly, enabling intricate inlays in the design not seen in other maille in the trilogy (as you can see in the picture).
As with most other LotR maille, the rings are 3/8” I.D., woven in the European 4-in-1 pattern.
The varieties of orc-maille in LotR is nearly endless, with hauberks, mantles, sleeves, even earrings appearing! The orcs’ rings differ from most others in that they are cut thicker than others, and left rough to reflect the orcs’ crude craftsmanship. Also, they’re larger, averaging ½” I.D. instead of the usual 3/8” I.D.
The maille worn by the warriors of Gondor, including those guarding the White Tree, is all the standard 3/8” I.D. PVC, woven in European 4-in-1. It differs, however, in that the finished maille was electroplated with a thin layer of silver, for an extra shine befitting the elite of Minas Tirith. Here, too, the maille consisted largely of maille sleeves attached to an undertunic.
In closing, The Lord of the Rings was a stunning, sweeping epic, and a groundbreaking work both in literature and in film. The maille produced by Weta Workshops was a work of genius, leading to more accurate depictions of maille in movies to come. No more will otherwise good movies bear the heartbreaking stigma of sweatermaille. From the entire mailling community, I thank you, Weta!
I hope this article has served its purpose, and laid to rest some of the uncertainty and debates surrounding the maille in this epic trilogy. I thank you for joining me for another edition of “Blackmaille”. As usual, any hate mail, fan mail, arguments, or praise can be sent to:
c/o Tom Beckett
13628 Belmead Ave.
Grandview, MO 64030
 Fellowship90.tripod.com webpage
 New Line Productions
 Personal correspondence with Judy Mitchell of alleycatscratch.com
 Smith, Cristopher “The Lord of the Rings: Weapons and Warfare” Harper-Collins, 2003 217 pgs.
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